A-level students react after U-turn: ‘My heart is beating so fast’

·5-min read

A-level students in England have shared their delight after a U-turn on the grading of exam results turned despair over their futures into hope once more.

After days of outcry over an algorithm which appeared to unfairly hinder high-achieving students from lower-performing schools, schools regulator Ofqual announced it would change course and also allow teachers’ predicted grades to inform results.

“My heart is beating so fast,” said student Alaa Muhammad, who had faced missing out on her dream of studying medicine in Pakistan after being downgraded.

She told the PA news agency: “I am ecstatic, I am so so happy. I was so hopeless a couple of days ago and now I feel like I can finally breathe again.”

Ms Muhammad, from south-east England, had seen her grades fall from a predicted ABB to EDD due to the heavily criticised algorithm.

The stark drop saw her post an emotional plea on Twitter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

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“I deserve to know why you have ruined my chance at life. Why I don’t feel like living anymore. Why I feel like all my hard work and money has gone to waste,” she wrote in the tweet, which was retweeted more than 60,000 times.

Ms Muhammad told PA she had paid more than £2,000 to take resits at a private college after her studies in year 12 and 13 were disrupted.

She now hopes she will be able to find a university place after all.

Jess Johnson, 18, last year won an Orwell Youth Prize for a piece of dystopian fiction about an algorithm that sorted students into bands based on class.

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When she first received the A-level results dictated by the algorithm, Ms Johnson faced losing out on a £16,000 scholarship and believed she had “fallen into my own story”.

“I wrote about it because I saw the educational inequality in the UK was there, but now it’s physically being enforced by an algorithm,” she told PA.

However, after the change in policy to use teachers’ assessments, she will get the A she needed in English to fulfil the terms of her initial offer at St Andrew’s.

Jess Johnson
Jess Johnson was set to miss out on a £16,000 scholarship (Jess Johnson/PA)

“I’m very excited about that, I’m glad they made the change,” said Ms Johnson, who studied at Ashton Sixth Form College in Greater Manchester.

“I think it would have been unfair if (Northern) Ireland, Scotland and Wales made the change and we didn’t, so I’m very glad.”

Student Thomas Jukes, who had missed out on a place to study medicine at the University of Birmingham, questioned why the “rubbish algorithm” was used in the first place.

“I’m much more pleased now I have got my centre-assessed grades. It’s just dependent now on whether my places have been held,” Mr Jukes, 18, from Great Barr in Birmingham told PA.

“If they managed to turn around in four days and say, ‘well, you can just have your centre-assessed grades’, it wouldn’t have been that much hassle in the first place, would it?

“I think they put a lot of time and effort into this rubbish algorithm, which has been a monumental failure, to just literally give us what the teachers predicted us anyway.”

A-Level results
A level students celebrate outside the Department for Education in London after it was confirmed that candidates in England will be given grades estimated by their teachers (Victoria Jones/PA)

Ms Muhammad was in agreement, adding: “They had four months to think of this.

“They should have thought every situation through. It was extremely unprofessional of them to follow suit to other countries instead of creating a system that would have been realistically fair.”

The announcement came as students took part in a demonstration outside the Department for Education in central London on Monday afternoon.

Describing the U-turn as “a bit late but better late than never”, Fawad Sajid, 18, of Kingsbury, north-west London, said: “For the greater good, this change is definitely a step in the right direction but I still feel there needs to be a process in which students can appeal against their teachers’ (assessed grade).

“Some students will naturally feel that having that assessment is not fair either. These appeals need to be treated on a case-by-case basis.

“We have been out here for three days protesting and we only got our results on Thursday.

“To see them make a change makes me feel good to see the power of the youth.”

A-Level results
Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson in his office at the Department of Education (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Glen Morgan-Shaw, 18, of Mitcham, south-west London, who also took part in the demonstration, said Mr Williamson “needs to resign”.

“I think he needs to make a large-scale apology and he needs to be on live television and tell all the students of the country that he wants to put down, who are of a lower class than him, that he is sorry and he is going to resign,” he said.

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