Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

To say that the awarding of this year’s exams results in Britain has been a disaster would be an understatement. Throughout the UK, examination boards have released results moderated by divisive standardisation models, which actively disadvantage students from deprived backgrounds. Due to immense public pressure the government have since U- turned on these initial results. This has been nothing short of absolute chaos.

It is worth noting that the numerous moderation systems originally used throughout the UK all had their own, as well as collective, flaws. In England, a total of 39% of A-level results originally awarded were downgraded. The algorithm directly favoured those in private schools, through only giving priority to teacher assigned grades in classes of less than 15 students: a largely unachievable criterion for state schools. Whereas in Scotland those from deprived backgrounds were originally adjusted 15.2% compared to the 6.9% of those from the least deprived backgrounds. In Northern Ireland a similar moderation system was applied, lowering 37% of grades. In Wales, despite government promises that the moderation system was “very different” the results were called a “postcode lottery” by the National Union of Students.

Given the, entirely justified, public uproar at the allocation of results, the nationwide U-turn on results, is shockingly predictable. The drastic and (by the fourth U-turn) foreseeable change in results led to days of unnecessary upset and followed by confusion. Many lost places in higher education only to achieve them days later.

The decision to award students their teacher assessed grades (if higher) is an improvement but it is not a perfect solution. Teacher assigned grades are systematically higher than the true achievement of pupils across the country. This is the reason that moderation was deemed necessary in the first place. The consequence of accepting these unmoderated predictions is that this year’s results are now substantially higher than previous years. This in itself causes a new conundrum for students and universities across the country. 

With considerably higher numbers of students achieving their conditions, many universities now have oversubscribed courses. All with only a couple of days warning a month before term is due to start for expectant students. The Government has promised  “All students who have achieved the required grades will be offered places at their first choice universities”. Yet, for some this means being offered alternative courses or deferred places as there is simply not room for everyone. This is far from ideal.

From the outset, the awarding of such results this year was always going to be a new and divisive affair. However, it would have been hard conjure up a system that ensured a more shambolic allocation of results. The flipflopping nature in which the exam bodies and government allocated results only to U-turn completely has managed to cause mass confusion and upset amongst students. Not only this but they have left universities in the lurch, forcing them to reject applications and then backtrack on these decisions.  By failing to truly consider the biases and public upset of their moderation systems, governments across the UK have only made a bad situation worse.