Written by Chloe Bayliss
Illustration by Zoe Shields
2020 has not exactly been the year we all anticipated it to be. It has been one disaster after another, affecting people of all ages from all over the world.
Unless you live under a rock, then you would have heard about the chaotic mess that has been the A level class of 2020. I have the honour of being part of this group essentially used as the lab rats for the government’s changes to the education system. From SAT’s, reformed GCSEs and now the class of COVID19.
As a student, my life consists primarily of my studies. When exams were cancelled it came as a shock to all of us and I personally found it hard to adjust. The decision was overnight, rendering two years’ worth of study, time and effort completely useless. Instead of being reassured and guided through this uncertain time, we were left high and dry. For months there was hardly any mention about how the government was going to assign our grades, plans were changing constantly and my sixth form had no clue what to say to us.
Instead of relying on the information gathered by our teachers, time and resources were wasted building an algorithm that processed data based on our postcodes and the school’s previous grades. All our hard work, individual grades and the word of our teachers was to be forgotten. The ‘postcode lottery’ was the government’s solution, and it was wrong
Our education system as a whole is flawed on the basis that it disregards the mental health of its students. We are pressured to work hard and get good grades at the cost of our wellbeing, just so schools can get a higher ranking in the league tables, increasing their popularity, increasing their students and turning a higher profit. It all comes back to money, at the cost of a student’s fascination and interest in education. As a result, an atmosphere of toxic pressure blooms.They have replaced the different categories of the social classes with the academic grading system. Just like in the class system it is near impossible to move above your ranking. Labelled from an early age you must work non-stop just to catch a glimpse of the other side – which is still out of reach due to other factors like gender, the economy or your geographic location.
Our teachers know our abilities better than anyone else. They have been with us, read our work, marked us, sat through our meltdowns and spent time out of normal school hours to prepare our classes and help guide us. They do all of this with little complaint, on pay that is too low for their talents and abilities because they care. They want to help raise the next generation, teach a subject they are passionate about and help young people discover new and exciting things.
Throughout the country, the government should have listened to the teachers and taken their expert opinions into consideration far more than any unfeeling computer system.
“I think they could’ve handled it much better and not left everyone in the dark,” says William Daci, a similarly affected student. “Overall, for my grades, I was decently happy.” William got accepted into his top choice university.
My sixth form is an extension of my high school. We had small numbers, tiny class sizes and strict rules over uniform and attendance. My history and English language classes had six people including myself, and my drama class had just me and two other boys. Being a small, new school, we were extremely lucky for the government mostly left us alone. Meaning many of us got our teachers original predicted grades. Others were not as fortunate.
Downgraded, judged on by their address and not their ability, so many students have had their futures thrust into uncertainty. Losing their places at Cambridge, Oxford, many forced into Clearing, some students even being pressured by their universities to defer the year.
“Yes, personally I was happy with my grades, however the way that they assessed it I feel as though we’re disadvantaged”, says Sanjeeda Choudhury. It has been noticed that there is a common pattern amongst larger colleges and sixth form from supposed ‘disadvantaged areas’ that those students were downgraded, whereas those from smaller sixth forms like mine were left alone.
Personally, I ended up receiving my predicted grades, which I am happy with and extremely grateful that I was not affected by the Conservative government’s classist system. But, as I said, others were not as lucky. It could have just as easily been me, that possibility is terrifying to even think about. It makes you think, we are never really in control of our lives. We can work hard, prepare and do our best, but at the end of the day, if you were born into a lower class, your chances in life are slim from the very beginning. If you have seen any of the news surrounding A level grades this year, then you would have seen that all the students at Eton and other private schools were not affected at all by the government’s system. Cemented proof, that the way the A level grades were assigned this year was classist and unfair.
No matter what the government did to replace the usual grading system, it was not going to be fair. These are unprecedented times, there is no plan or rule book for how to cope when a deadly global pandemic makes the world tour nobody wanted. So many lives have been ruined in the space of a few months, and in the grand scheme of things I suppose we should be grateful that we are still here to tell the tale. Yet, it is a belief of mine that we should not compare our pain. We all go through different things in life, suffer, fail and experience mental and physical trauma. This world is not kind to us, and our generation is one surrounded by input, through our screens, our education system, our parents and our friends. We have little output, little chances to express ourselves and strive for goals we care about. So, if you were upset on results day you have every right to be. We are human.