Update: on the 17th August, the English and Welsh education ministers joined their Scottish counterpart in reversing their commitment to an algorithm-based approach to exam results, and settling for teacher-based assessments. All three ministers have also issued apologies. For details, see: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53810655
This summer’s examination results have triggered unusual indignation and outrage across the UK. It all kicked off in Scotland, where the education minister reacted to public anger by dumping a strategy that he had originally approved. This was followed a week later by an outcry when results were announced elsewhere in the UK, but a common theme was that in each system, the preferred solutions to problems caused by the pandemic all tended to discriminate against the least privileged children.
Understandably, the media – social and ‘traditional’ – had a field day. In the middle of the row I tweeted a mildly-worded reminder that adults were affected as well as school-leavers: some second chance returners take GCSEs and/or A-levels, either to measure themselves against able youngsters, or – probably more significantly – as a way of building up a portfolio of qualifications that are widely recognised and can enable progression.
My message prompted a number of replies, and this post summarises the main points that people raised. Some people tweeted that any inherent bias in this summer’s system was likely to affect adult returners more severely than youngsters. One noted that as adults usually do a GCSE in 9 months, they had less time for full mock exams to fall back on. Another said that adult learners’ lack of previous education may have caused issue with the moderation of their grades. Finally, David Hughes commented that Ofqual’s algorithms struggle to cope with adults because of lack of comparable prior achievement data
One person pointed out that the number of adults taking schoolleaver qualifications has dropped significantly. In particular, a tiny number of adults now sit GCE A levels, with 1780 entries (not learners) for 19+ learners on 2018/19 NARTs (many of whom will be under 21), and only 340 Advanced Learning Loans approved for A Levels in 2018/19.
Once the dust settles, and the inevitable enquiries grind into action, it will be important to ensure that the disinctive needs and experiences of adult returners are not overlooked. I hope that this short summary of initial responses helps make the case for including adult learners in the conversation – and maybe in the longer run ensuring that these qualifications are made more accessible elements in our lifelong learning system.
My thanks to all those who commented. You can follow them on Twitter at: