The A Levels Results Crisis and the Covid Education Train Wreck

Yves here. Many of you in the US likely missed the A level testing algo fiasco. Here is the short version, from the Financial Times yesterday:

The government is under mounting pressure to come to the aid of secondary school pupils in England after almost 40 per cent of A-level grades were downgraded from teachers’ predictions.

Amid an angry backlash from pupils and teachers, opposition parties and trade unions led calls for ministers to review how A-level results were modified by examination regulators using a computer algorithm.

But Boris Johnson, prime minister, defended the contentious arrangements aimed at preventing unwarranted grade inflation, saying there had been a “robust” marking system.

With exams cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis, A-level results released on Thursday were calculated through a two-part process: teachers estimated pupils’ grades, and then Ofqual, the watchdog, moderated the qualifications through statistical modelling that factored in schools’ past performance, among other considerations.

And a related Financial Times story alludes to the fact, as has no doubt occurred to many US parents, how Covid-19 is further reducing already low class mobility. Only a small subset of kids are motivated enough to take online study to heart; the most affluent can hire tutors; some but not very many parents have the breadth of knowledge, time, and temperament to home school.

Sarah Akintunde admits to being “scared”. The 18-year-old from Romford in Essex hopes to study law at Oxford university from September but needs Thursday’s A-level results to deliver top grades to do so.

If that prospect was already daunting, the disruption of coronavirus and the scrapping of exams this year, in favour of a series of statistical assessments, means that the future for the 700,000 A-level students due to get their results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this week is even more uncertain than normal….

The stakes are particularly high for students from ethnic minorities, like Ms Akintunde, those from low-income backgrounds and from other groups traditionally under-represented in higher education — including white working class boys, Roma and mature students.

The barriers that students from these backgrounds face remain formidable. Data from the Office for Students, the university regulator, show that those admitted to Oxford and Cambridge are around 15 times less likely to come from the UK’s poorest districts than its richest ones. Across more than 25 of the more prestigious universities from Birmingham to York, young people from the richest areas of the country are on average four times more likely to attend than those from the poorest…

Even before coronavirus — and despite more than £550m being spent annually on boosting access — progress had been slow. The share of students from the least wealthy fifth of British districts attending higher education has risen from 11.6 per cent to 12 per cent in the past five years; and for black students from 5.8 per cent to 6.6 per cent. Universities such as Oxford had announced bold plans this year to expand their intake of students from low-income backgrounds.

Now, there is concern that coronavirus threatens to reverse even the small progress that has been made. The fear, among teachers and specialists is that less privileged school leavers will receive lower grades given that the marking algorithms deployed to substitute for written exams are based partly on a school’s past record rather than the individual’s potential.

Richard Murphy worries that Covid-19 interrupted public education won’t go away any time soon, and authorities and gatekeepers aren’t prepared.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

make no apology for returning to the A level theme that I have noted for a couple of days. This blog is a stream of consciousness, as much as anything. It represents my reaction to world events, and in my world this has been a big deal for the last few days. My son and I are, we now know, amongst the lucky ones. We could celebrate last night, and not all could.

This year’s results are not, however, my main concern this morning. Next year’s are. And they are just as important to those who will be taking them as this years have been to people like my son. The prospect that those results will be severely impacted by the coronavirus crisis is very real. And that is an issue I have not seen anyone mention in the mainstream media as yet.

There is an assumption that this year’s results will be aberrational: a disruption in an otherwise smooth flow of results that would otherwise exist from 2019 to 2021, but that is not true. In fact, it is likely to be very far from it. I can, in fact, make a fairly confident set of predictions right now, presuming that there are A level exams in 2021, and nothing should be taken for granted at present.

The first is that students from private schools will perform at way above average level. Their schooling has been relatively uninterrupted during the summer term of 2020, largely because it was reasonable for those schools to presume that every pupil could partake in online learning.

Second, and inversely, state school performance will be worse. They could not deliver a continuing curriculum during a crucial term, or provide the exam training that is, rightly or wrongly, a key part of that team’s work for their pupils. Those pupils will not be as well prepared as is desirable as a result. That is the consequence of their inability to assume all pupils could access online learning.

And third, the impact noted in my second point will be exaggerated by income factors. The lower a pupil’s parental income is likely to be the harder access to education during the last term was also likely to be, through lack of IT resource, uninterrupted space to study, and so on.

As a result it is entirely possible to say now, and with absolute certainty, that next year’s A level results will not see a return to normal.

It is equally certain that those results will be heavily biased in favour of those pupils with the best off parents, and most especially those who have attended private schools.

It follows that without allowing for this fact the 2021 A level results will fail next year’s sixth formers, and most especially those from lower income households attending state schools. That means planning to correct for this has to start now, unless the government is indifferent to the injustice this will give rise to.

And nor will the problem end there. Those aged 15 who will be taking GCSEs next year are also impacted by this. The consequences will flow through to their post 16 choices and A levels. There is very likely impact in that case until the 2023 A level results, at least.

My question in that case is a simple one, and is what is to be done about this, unless we are to be indifferent to the resulting prejudice? This year’s mess can be dismissed as a fiasco, even if an utterly arbitrarily unfair one. But next year’s issue is wholly anticipatable, because I am doing that now. It cannot be avoided in that case. And I suggest that the injustice cannot be avoided either.

So what is to be done? I have no answers, at least as yet. I do not claim that I can formulate answers to every problem I can foresee arising. But unless this issue is addressed now the scale of the anger at the injustices that will result will be even greater than this year, where some degree of forgiveness for the mess is at least possible on the part of some. Next year there will be no such tolerance.

The key issue is that we are not going back to normal.

And that means that ministers need to prepare for that reality.

And so, too, does everyone else.

The post-Covid world is not going to be the same as the pre-Covid one. We need to embrace that reality. Few have. And ministers do not appear to be amongst those few. It’s time they rose to the challenge, and prepared the ground. How society develops from here depends upon them doing so.

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48 comments

  1. a different chris

    Do Oxford and Cambridge crank out complete idiots like Yale and Harvard?

    If so, this may be a good thing for many unsuspecting youngsters. My father always said, referring to technical degrees in science and engineering “after 3 years nobody cares about your grades and school”.

    But the Masters Of The Universe in politics and the nose-bleed levels of business seem to carry the old school colors on forever. I suspect that’s why science moves forward and everything else is now increasingly going backwards.

    Reply
    1. TMoney

      Most of them are full indoctrinated on the way in. A few are aspiring middle class climbers and fewer still are working class climbers. Future civil servants study “Classics”. The real business is the networking into the “Old Boys network”. “Old Boys”refers to your public school – Eaton or Harrow old chap ? The networking at Oxford and Cambridge cement your future social climbing. Harvard and Yale are a lot like Oxford (around 1096) and Cambridge (founded 1209) – not the other way round.

      Reply
      1. rtah100

        Cambridge was over half way through its existence (1209) before Harvard was founded (1636)! This will not change until 2064….

        Reply
        1. juno mas

          Well, since Harvard is in North America, pretty much unknown to even the scholars of Cambridge in 1209, it’s not unusual that it took until 1636 for Harvard to be founded. (There were native Americans to subdue first.)

          Reply
          1. rtah100

            Sorry, I was being a bit gnomic. I forgot to unpack the wryly amusing bits while worrying about the arithmetic

            – Harvard was founded by a Cambridge graduate (from Emma, IIRC). There’s a direct link behind the elite-factory model
            – It’s amazing to think that Harvard’s foundation is a still a recent event from the Cambridge perspective. In the same way that the Beatles’ landmark albums were recorded closer to WWI than to today. And as of this month, the same is true of the Moon Landings. Sometimes objects in the rearview mirror are further than we think….

            Reply
    2. Redlife2017

      I deal with some at work. I haven’t noticed a lot of extra level reasoning skills, that’s for sure. They have rarely had to experience difficulty in their life and are even more narrowly focused then people generally are in the UK educational sector (OMG – the UK education is great at Masters, but below is WAY too specific). If they are in Operations (the bastion of normal people such as myself), they will always be able to be “lifted out” to be among their own people in the Front Office (I wish I was kidding). They will not have to suffer too long among the unwashed…

      I have seen job ads in London where they will only interview someone that went to Oxbridge / Red Brick (or Russell Group*), which is pretty telling of how class identifiers are used here in the UK. But then again, look at top 25 universities in the US, and I can tell you from experience that getting more than 2 people from a Midwestern state can sometimes be a struggle. Personal example – I went to a top 25 university on the East coast (not Ivy, but private) and am from Iowa. There was exactly one other Iowan in the entire university for my year. And that person went to the private catholic school in Des Moines (ergo had connections and had money). I went to a state school in the boonies that covered probably 30 square miles or more in the school district – I had to drive 11 miles to get to my high school! I was the exception to the rule that made them feel better about the fact that, see, they DO admit kids from lots of different backgrounds (lol).

      *Russell Group includes Red Bricks, Oxbridge, and a few other research universities. Not quite as poncy, but includes very up their own backside places of education…

      Reply
      1. TMoney

        I heard from a Dartmouth Alum that the posh schools have internal admissions allotments for places. Phillips Academy Andover probably has an allotment bigger than the whole of the Midwest. Nice guy – pediatrician, his daughter got into Dartmouth too and said “she was the poor kid in the class”. This informal(?) admissions allotment reveals a small piece of how the deck is stacked.

        Remember this is 2nd or 3rd hand gossip, if you have more knowledge than me, please post it here.

        Reply
        1. ObjectiveFunction

          A lot of Ivy admits from the prep schools are sports-related, but not for the ‘big time’ sports (with pro leagues): crew, fencing, tennis, track, swimming.

          The Ivies don’t give athletic scholarships, so only the first two regularly produce Olympic caliber athletes today. But athlete recruits still get a slight break, especially on their SAT scores.

          This actually works out ok for the school, as jocks/jockettes seem to do well on Wall Street and in industry, and to be more generous donors later.

          Reply
    3. BrianC - PDX

      In my field, computer science (software engineering) you will typically know if a candidate is going to make it in 3 to 6 months. So 6 months into your first job no one is going to care what your grades were or what school you attended.

      Reply
    4. rtah100

      This is all pearl-clutching. My father-in-law is a former deputy head of a grammar school and every year had to be back from holiday early for A-level results day. The adjustment process has always been there. Last year, 84% of the grades were adjusted. Assuming some kind of normal distribution, that’s 42% were marked down. 40% this year is an *improvement*.

      More importantly, why has the FT coloured its graph in Oxford Blue for Cambridge and Cambridge Blue for Oxford? Is a redbrick grad messing with us? Is it a subtle cry for help from the sinking Oxbridge ship? is it a mistake and the bars are mislabelled? Or is a perceptual psychology experiment, where they show you words like “Orange” in the colour purple and ask you what you see?

      Reply
  2. The Rev Kev

    “Ofqual, the watchdog, moderated the qualifications through statistical modelling that factored in schools’ past performance, among other considerations.”

    That is so lazy and irredeemable that. So you could have a bright student that might go far in society and make a big contribution but the black-box in Ofqual says, ‘Naw, sorry kid.Your school does not have a great history. You live in the wrong post code.’ and that would be that. You are not judging an individual student’s performance if you are taking into account such factors. You are judging social economic groups instead. No wonder Boris is on board with this.

    Reply
  3. TMoney

    A-Levels are hard. Harder than University for most students. 2 years of your life for 6 to 8 3 hour tests.
    No do-overs, not graded by your teachers, almost no multiple choice questions, no extra credit. It is/was brutal. Three subjects was typical (mine were Maths, Physics and Chemistry). We also took “General Studies” but it didn’t count for University addmission.

    As an Oxbridge (Pembroke College) reject, I can attest to the importance of the estimated A-Level grades. It works much the same as the Harvard / Yale system in America. Fancy Prep schools get 80 % of their students in, top public schools get a few percent in and one or two insanely exceptional students from each of all the other schools.

    My school was a “good” school, back then it was old fashioned Grammar school. You had to pass the 11+ exam.
    The Secondary schools (where 2/3 of kids went) had better facilities, I can’t speak for the teachers, but I know our teachers were exceptional. My year got maybe 6 kids to Oxford and 6 to Cambridge out of ~ 160 kids. Their estimates A-levels were all AAA. The teachers kept our estimates low, to ensure we had a credibility when then sent kids to interview for Oxford and Cambridge.

    Downgrades would have knocked out even these few bright sparks.

    Now the fancy school for the wealthy kids (Birkenhead school, they regularly send swathes of kids (no idea of the number, but the teachers told us lots of them went). As good as Birkenhead school was, it was a piker compared to the likes of Eaton and Harrow.

    It doesn’t look like things have changed.

    For the record, I met the same girl from an open day visit 6 months earlier at my overnight stay for the interview. I had a terrible interview but got to buy Julia from Dewsbury a drink. It is still a pleasant memory. I hope she got to Pembroke and did well. I went to the University of Salford instead.

    ProTip: Whenever anyone says they went to Oxford or Cambridge – ask what College. They know and it matters – or so I’m told. If they don’t know, well, you can be sure they didn’t go.

    Reply
    1. Ray

      How do you tell the difference between a tourist and a student in Oxford (and probably Cambridge); a tourist will wear an Oxford University branded top whereas a student will on!y wear a college branded top.

      Reply
      1. rtah100

        Almost correct.

        Certainly no undergrad(*) would wear a University branded top. The only point of the University is to provide examinations and award degrees. The College is your life – shelter, food, friends, drinking, supervisions (“small group tutorials”).

        However, nobody would wear a generic College top unless they had no alternative because even those are available to outsiders – conference guests could buy one (horror!).

        An undergrad would wear some sort of College club top but usually only if they’d been doing the activity. At Queens’ Cambridge, you would see people in a College boatie top (rowers – QCBC, Queens’ College Boat Club) or a rugby top (QCRFC), or a College society top, e.g. Magsoc (the St Margaret’s society, a music society) or BATS (a drama society).

        NB: A *lot* of people are boaties because it is encouraged as a social activity, with lots of rubbish rowers, male and female, messing about in “gentleman’s eights” for the binge-drinking. And rowing takes place daily so boaties tend to live in their tops. Dirty people on dirty water. :-)

        You pretty quickly get to recognise the other College colours and badges, which are often but not always their coats of arms. The colours are green and white for Queens’ but the College arms are a mess in branding terms because it was refounded by two different Queens’ so it has ended up as six sets of arms quartered together, with various blazons for minor branches, and one of them is even breaks the rules of English heraldy (the gold cross on a silver background of the King of Jerusalem – shared with the Pope!). So the societies all use the College badge – Richard III’s “boar’s head argent” rocks in design terms.

        The only University tops people would wear were either University team tops (Blues – a fetching Cambridge Blue top; half-blues are available for minor sports and quarter-blues for the Tiddlywinks club out of pure sarcasm) or minority pursuits that could only operate at University level, such as underwater exploration (diving, to ordinary people) or mountaineering.

        Only very sad people ever wore their College scarf but everybody has one in a drawer….

        *Graduate students tend to be there to study and work and are allowed to play by different rules but most of them figure it out by the end.

        Reply
      2. ObjectiveFunction

        I have noticed Harvard PhD students and faculty greatly relish wearing sweatshirts from the most obscure schools they can possibly find.

        Reply
  4. XXYY

    The key issue is that we are not going back to normal.

    And that means that ministers need to prepare for that reality.

    And so, too, does everyone else.

    This is true of this particular issue, but it is also true of a very broad range of issues. It’s easy to make a huge list, almost as fast as you can write, of things that are going to be changed for years or forever as a result of what’s happened in the last six months. Yet it seems to be taking a very long time for this reality to sink in, both for everyone in the broader population but particularly for leaders and planners whose job is to make sober calculations about the future and plan accordingly. Much of the common wisdom still seems to be that what’s happening now is a blip, and we will we soon get back to “normal”.

    Reply
    1. sd

      Legacy never goes away. The newest method is a mid year or winter acceptance ostensibly after some spots open up due to attrition.

      Reply
  5. BrianM

    The barriers to going to Oxbridge run deep. When I was applying to universities in the 1980s, noone from my school in a working class town in Scotland had ever gone there. It was suggested to me that I try to apply. Coincidentally, the summer before my final school year we went to the Cotswolds for our family holiday, and spent a day in Oxford, so I picked up a prospectus. To the uninitiated the whole college thing was baffling – I wanted to do maths, but I couldn’t tell which colleges taught it and which were any good. It was like I had to choose from 25 universities again, but without any meaningful information. With noone to guide me, I gave up and stuck with Scottish unis.

    A few years later, a couple of people from my school did get in. They had parents who had been to Oxbridge. I hope they are doing better now.

    Reply
  6. jackiebass

    A wise old man once told me that money talks and BS walks. So called elite universities in the US are corrupted by money just like our political system.A less than average student can be admitted to one of these so called elite universities if they have money which will mean they have connections. The most glaring example is the POTUS. Listening to him talk and reading what he writes tells me he is not an educated person. There are many that belong to the elite white mens club that are just like D.T. In watching BBC I have concluded that the UK isn’t much different from the USA. Without money a persons chance of moving up is slim or none. This is all by design.

    Reply
    1. TMoney

      Jackie, wrong way round, the US is slowly recreating the British class system, but with money not “Nobility” as the way in. Only the money required has to be generational to really count. Once it’s properly established (about 75 more years by my guess) look for an amendment to repeal oart of Section IX Clause VIII

      No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States

      Reply
    2. John Wright

      “Listening to him talk and reading what he writes tells me he is not an educated person”

      This “educated person” impression could also depend on the field of study.

      Even if one assumes a diligent student Trump, he went to the business school at the University of Pennsylvania and may have had little exposure to a broad based education.

      My college degree is in Electrical Engineering and there were few courses in history and literature in the curriculum.

      In my 30+ years working in the electronics industry, I’ve read emails from graduate engineers that could make them seem uneducated.

      Spell checking makes emails somewhat more readable now. .

      I remember a fellow student who claimed to be majoring in engineering because he “couldn’t spell”.

      He flunked out and went to work for his father.

      Reply
  7. Susan the other

    I don’t mean to be glib with this comment. I think it would be interesting. It might even prove to be the best kind of vacation. And after a year Covid19 will be better controlled. RM: “The key issue is we are not going back to normal.” That’s an opportunity. By all means do online courses; give every kid a computer. Computer manufacturers will gladly donate them. And every kid should have their own TV too – which should also be donated. Then organize, organize, organize everything online and on TV. Don’t worry about “teaching to the test” crap. In fact do the opposite. Be informative but do not drone on. Provide an archive for kids who fall asleep. And some chat rooms. And then take advantage of these extraordinary times to run an experiment (I’m serious here) on Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of intelligence and knowledge – that it has an ether and an energy and a life of its own inside, outside and surrounding all our craniums. And plants as well, and so on. And as good thinking accumulates it becomes knowledge not by people writing and pontificating but by simply existing in this broth. Because we are sentient. (Well something like that.) It could be a form of entanglement; or maybe we’ve been delusional all along about our individual brilliance. Or maybe Rupert is all wet. I’d bet he is right. So then, every student has a TV and a computer. Test everyone (even the adults) at the beginning of the year; feed them the best, most salient information possible for the school year; test them periodically but don’t make a big deal out of it. Then at the end of the year test them to see if they get to “advance.” The tell would be that everybody and their dog got considerably smarter and better informed than expected. This is not to say that getting together directly in groups to understand things and communicate is not necessary. Schools are excellent places to learn. It is simply problematic now. But this experiment would be very interesting. The school year would not be a wash at all. And giving everyone good electronics is a no-brainer either way.

    Reply
    1. Chris

      I dont take your response as glib, but I take it as somewhat irrelevant. So many people do not have broadband access or the technical skills necessary to interact with synchronous or asynchronous education in the US. So many teachers don’t know how to use those tools or software. The ones who do are people in well off areas, with fiber to their house, and see no problem paying for it as a utility.

      When all of the school shutdowns hit, we had multiple devices our children could use to do their school work on. Plenty of my neighbors did not. Plenty more did not have the high speed connection to tale advantage of devices even when the school supplied them. And a number of others had no technical training to be the hands on IT help for their kids with these new devices. There is such a gap in training and resources based on my experience that we will have serious issues for years to come. I don’t know how we fix this without deciding we’re going to lower the bar to pass, make everyone who was affected test out of remedial classes to prove they’re OK, and then offer gap year learning at community colleges to make up for those who don’t.

      Reply
      1. Susan the other

        I agree with you it’s a mess that has been brewing for a long time. But if not now, when? Right? It’s at lest a start. It’s a good-hearted start. I’m always of the opinion that the good-hearted part is more important than the “facts” (that are eventually proven to be inadequate) part. And etc.

        Reply
      2. Bob

        We’ve been through this before with the national electrical grid.

        Anyone here remember Rural Electrification ? This brought electrical power to even the smallest of homesteads. Ma and Pa Kettle didn’t have to work as hard to make a living.

        Our dear leaders have a golden opportunity to build a nationwide information grid. So instead of building a wall as some have suggested we could build a national informational grid that touched every residence, every public building, hell even the smallest of line shacks.

        We know how to do this. We are after all builders or we used to be. We have the technology, the manufacturing capacity, a trainable workforce, and we know how to do this.

        Reply
  8. Code Name D

    Don’t blame parents/students for “lack of focus.” My next-door neighbor just enrolled three kids into school this week. That is three kids for one computer. The on-line classes are NOT on-demand, so she is already running into impossible scheduling conflicts regarding which student will be on with which hour. And that is assuming they can log in at all as the school’s servers are frequently down. Even more critically, the marital and software is atrocious. There was one class that consisted of nothing more than two paragraphs, and five math questions. This was to occupy to student for 40 minutes. The eight-year old’s course work has pages of reading – for an eight-year-old still learning how to read. And you expect her to read ten pages of text about fractions?

    Supposedly they are working on an android version. All three do have their own tablets but are not compatible with the current system. (Gee, why am I not surprised about that.)

    Make no mistake – this system is designed to fail. Stop blaming the victims for when it does.

    Reply
  9. David

    Long, long ago, “A” (=”advanced”) level examinations were essentially to sort out the brighter school-leavers to go into decent jobs in the workforce at age 18. A by-product was a grading system that helps sort candidates for universities. Offers of places were made before A levels were even taken, much less the results known, and produced a complicated bargaining system of conditional offers on predicted grades. That’s what I went through fifty years ago, when only about 10% of students went to University . Now it’s more like 50%, partly because of expansion, partly because of re-categorisation of higher education. (Oxford and Cambridge had their own supplementary examinations, and largely still do).
    Grades are only of any interest if you want to go to university. In practice, A levels have become a kind of university entrance exam, but with no standardisation and a hit-and-miss approach, sorted out, in true British fashion, by manic improvisation at the last minute, where lots of students without universities try to pair up with lots of universities without students. It’s a shambles.
    The system works, more or less, when people take actual exams, and even more when they have face to face interviews. That’s how I got into a decent university all those years ago. But even then, and even more now, parental status and social class counted for more than they should have done. Between teachers’ guesses about grades (usually optimistic) and the delights of algorithms and online examinations I think it’s completely broken down.

    Reply
  10. Skip Intro

    This will leave a mark.
    By which I mean this will be part the long-term scar tissue and functional impairment left by Covid-19 and our defensive responses to it, on diverse parts of society. Naturally, with familiar concentration along class and ethnicity gradients. In a way the damage from the virus and its effects in a failing state are ‘morbid symptoms’ that parallel the course of the virus in bodies, with a likelihood that lasting functional impairments arise. Our bipolar political disinfotainment complex also cooperates with the virus, symbiotically spreading polarized opinion on basic safety measures, assuring pathways and fissures for it to get a foothold, mapped out by social media pathways for viral information spread.

    Will someone do Gramsci doing Yeats’ Second Coming for me? I feel another ale coming on.

    Reply
  11. Terry Flynn

    Whilst I agree with the post, there is a danger the situation is even worse due to heterogeneity within the Oxbridge system (not all colleges are equal) and that in some cases it isn’t even Oxford or Cambridge that is the worst offender (any Brits who know the “Oxbridge reject” universities will know all about this). I have the dubious honour of having seen it all in action (early 1990s Cambridge undergrad, late 90s post-grad Bristol).

    Frankly I loathed teaching 4th year medical students at Bristol – many had cars (whilst nobody at my Cambridge college had had one). I would estimate the socio-economic average to be far higher than I experienced at Cambridge. However, whilst the Economics course at Cambridge was taught to students who covered the socio-economic spectrum, in applying to Cambridge – and certainly back then you applied to a COLLEGE – the moment you identified your college, other Cantabs could (and did) judge you in terms of your background. A college like Fitz clearly was attracting students (especially BAME) from families who’d had no link to Oxbridge. My college (Caius) was middle of the road, with the economists (and those reading most subjects) from Grammar schools, Private schools that were more famous for academic excellence (mine averaged 20 out of 120 boys per year going to Oxbridge and I only got to go because of a scholarship) than money and good comprehensives.

    St John’s and Trinity were the “really posh” ones, whilst Jesus (it was suspected) was positively discriminating against applicants from non-state schools. The trouble was, unless you had teachers at your school who knew something about the college Fellows in the subject you wanted to read, your choice of college to apply to could make or break your application. Indeed I was taking something of a chance since our school typically funnelled its good mathematicians to Caius – no pupil wanting to read economics had applied there so we didn’t know how he would fare at interview. As it turned out I did well – although I was really hit hard – the microeconomics Fellow, upon learning I read the Economist, told me off aggressively (though quite rightly), saying proper business people needed advice that kept them afloat, not neoliberal propaganda (things were different then!) I think this was pre-Martin Wolfe days but he advised that type of column in the FT.

    Meanwhile the Director of Studies, an eminent economic historian and expert on Japan, was gearing up to retire thus during tutorials would “teach us the book” (set by the UNIVERSITY and which was being co-opted by neoliberals), then “teach us the truth”. He, along with many retirement age Fellows, had studied directly or indirectly under Keynes. I was even lectured by Wynne Godley at a time when he was (no doubt) working out the mechanics of stock-flow consistent economic accounting/MMT!

    But the sad thing was, the people who actually were working on models that truly described the economy and were Keynesian/post-Keynesian, were already losing the battle to young guns steeped in neoliberal ideas.

    Reply
  12. Don Scott

    With stupid incompetent men like Tump and W as their most marquis grads, why would anyone want to blow a small fortune on a MBA at Wharton or Harvard?

    Reply
  13. EoH

    From that first FT piece:

    The government is under mounting pressure to come to the aid of secondary school pupils in England after almost 40 per cent of A-level grades were downgraded from teachers’ predictions.

    The FT buries the lede when it frames the problem as students seeking aid. Students do not want special treatment. They want government not to mistreat them.

    Algorithms incorporate the assumptions and biases of their authors. No surprise, then, that in England, private school students are assumed to have done better than publicly educated ones. The algo actually bumps up some of their results.

    If “too many” publicly educated students receive high marks, though, it can only be owing to teachers’ evaluation and grading biases. So, the algo actively downgrades those results. Status quo ensues. England is as much a post-class society as America is a post-racial one.

    Reply
    1. EoH

      Boris Johnson’s government working hard to maintain the status quo: “Students in England must meet eight criteria to appeal exam results.” Students from private schools will not likely need to appeal their results. So, the effect is to further discriminate against publicly-educated students.

      https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/aug/15/english-students-must-meet-eight-criteria-to-appeal-exam-results

      What else would one expect from an Old Etonian, whose primary experience of games involves shoving fellow students against a wall, while simultaneously attempting to reach one end of it to score a goal. The skill required “consists in the remorseless application of pressure and leverage as one advances inch by painful inch through a seemingly impenetrable mass of opponents.” Government by the elite in a nutshell. https://www.etoncollege.com/wallgame.aspx

      Reply
  14. Tien

    Judging by their pro Boris pro conservative and pro Brexit stance I’m not sure better education will do England any good.

    Reply
  15. Michael

    Isn’t there a possible issue related to grade inflation by it being the test taker’s teachers issuing the predicted scores? (i.e., a mix of “Involuntary bias by refs and homefield advantage” and “the Lake Woebegone effect.”) A private school in our area had a number of student’s scores downgraded by the third party graders as they had a history of showing too many predicted scores well above the statistically likely range. Cue irate parents and students.

    Reply
    1. EoH

      There has been grade inflation, but neither it nor supposed grading bias in favor of students is limited to publicly-financed schools. The government’s proposed solution doesn’t deal with that. Whatever its assumptions and biases, its algo consistently favored private school students. That might be one reason the exams authority has backed off on both its constipated appeals process and the use of is algo altogether.

      Reply

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