Rachael Maskell MP for York Central
Rachael Maskell MP for York Central

The Class of 2020

First they said they needed data about the children to find out what they’re learning.
Then they said they needed data about the children to make sure they are learning.
Then the children only learnt what could be turned into data.
Then the children became data.
Michael Rosen (former Children’s Laureate)

Education should be about helping young people discover their talents and then releasing these to advance themselves, our society and our futures. As Michael Rosen has so poignantly described, our education system has been reduced from the best in the world to one where teachers are under constant scrutiny and young people extreme stress in order to produce data sets to satisfy Government Ministers.

This last week has exposed how grades no longer represent the capabilities and gifts of our young people and how crude algorithms can override the considerations of professionally trained teachers. The fluidity of grading has proved that the system needs significant revision. A fully exam-based approach to education has also exposed systemic weaknesses in how young people are assessed, and why pupils should be tested in a variety of ways.

After two years of sacrifice to achieve the best possible grades, young people across the city not only forewent the end of their courses, but last week were rejected from pursuing their future careers, courses and places at university. Since, they have been on an emotional rollercoaster to only end up with the grades their teachers had already forecast.

I applaud all the universities that led the way to pragmatically supporting pupils falling short of their predicted grades, like here in York, but it should never have come to this.

Last week, young people and parents told me how “devastated” and “heartbroken” they were. Teachers expressed their exasperation while higher education providers sought solutions. I shared their pain and took action, by writing three times to the Education Secretary. After adding further confusion over the weekend by including mock exam results into the equation, he has now heeded the call for a U-turn, but this should never have happened.

I thank the trade unions, teachers, pupils and parents and all in the higher education sector for their resolve not to give up. I further call on employers to now follow their example and accept pupils predicted grades for those not going onto higher education. As schools rightfully spoke out, Labour fought for a just resolve, and even threatened legal action. Labour will never give up on our young people and for their abilities to be recognised.

But there are so many questions that remain as to why the Education Secretary failed to see this coming and what possessed him to believe that exam results from last year had any bearing on this year. We are all left asking why the Government had more confidence in computer algorithms than teachers who used all their professional knowledge, data and results to determine predicted grades and then moderated these to ensure they were robust. Once again teachers were undermined.

Most worryingly, pupils who experience the greatest disadvantage fared the worst downgrading while those with a ‘privileged’ education came out with little change. I have asked the Government for its equality impact assessment. There is no excuse for not stress testing the system; there is no excuse for further driving inequality. Governments should be there for everyone, not just the elite.

So what grade has the algorithm awarded the Education Secretary? The collective assessment of the public certainly doesn’t score him well. If 39.1% of grades were lowered (compared with 2.3% which rose), he should have immediately asked if Britain’s teachers really got their predictions so wrong or if he did.

The uproar from pupils, parents and teachers, united, says it all. Politics is not a game. When you have leaders who believe it is, we are all victims.

On top of a decade of austerity and lost opportunities, the Government has plunged us into an education crisis, left us with the third highest Covid-19 death rate in the world and served up the worst economic recession of any country. Governments are meant to protect its people, this one has failed, and failed catastrophically.

We must never trust this Government again, but as our young people have risen up to fight for their futures, we can, at least, put our hope in them.

Click on the link below to read the article on the York Press website:



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