September 01 2020

School daze ...

CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who has received results this summer. For many of you, it will be a time of celebration for you and your families as you look towards new opportunities.
Unfortunately, many young people in Bristol are telling me they feel cheated by the government’s biased algorithm and chaotic announcements. This is wrong. In such a difficult year, young people’s achievements should not be diminished by the government’s mess.
Since the disaster of A-level results day, I have collected information from students, parents, and senior leaders from schools in Bristol West.  Many students wrote to me having lost their place at universities as a result of their grades being lowered, for example from A*AA to ACC, from ABC to BDD and from AAA to BBC. 
One state-maintained school told me that their students fared particularly badly in one subject because the cohort were outstanding compared to previous years, but this improvement was not accounted for by the algorithm. In another school, all six applicants who were accepted into Oxford and Cambridge were rejected on the basis of the results they were given. In another, 84 per cent of their Year 13s had at least one qualification downgraded.
Many of these stories illustrate the most unfair aspect of the whole episode – that the Ofqual algorithm disproportionately marked down students from lower income backgrounds and state-maintained schools.
Education is supposed to reduce inequalities. This looked like it was going to have the opposite effect.
I was glad that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson backtracked on this – partly because of the amazing campaigning by young people affected – but for many students, the U-turn came too late. At the time of writing, it seems that many young people in Bristol will have missed out on the places they should have received, but it remains to be seen how universities and students will continue to be affected as courses fill up.
I am working with schools, students and parents to put their cases to the government and have this situation put right as soon as possible. I have also been speaking to the universities in my patch – University of Bristol and University of the West of England – asking them what they need to offer places to the maximum number of students.

And that’s not all…
By the time you read this, many of Bishopston’s children will (hopefully) be back in school.
I have been in contact with schools across the constituency, listening to their concerns as they make plans to reopen in a safe way. I am feeding these concerns back to my colleagues leading on education, because I am seriously worried this will be a repeat of the results disaster.
If you are a parent, student or teacher and would like me to take up something worrying you, please get in touch.
Despite these problems, I hope September is still a hopeful time, especially for those children and students who have been at home for so long. Good luck to all learners, and thank you to all the teachers and people working in education to make sure we are all safe.