AAfter the exam failures of the past few years, many A-level students will now open their results to crushing, if somewhat predictable, disappointment. This is the biggest drop in grades in England on record, as a result of the government’s policy to return to pre-pandemic grading.
The proportion of A*-A grades falls from 35.9% in 2022 to 26.5%. The drop was the highest in England – in Wales and Northern Ireland, analysts considered the impact of the pandemic. After all, these are the kids who didn’t sit their GCSEs.
Now, it’s easy to look at rate drops and not worry – isn’t this just a return to normal post-Covid? In some ways, it is. After all, grades rose under lockdown when teachers were tasked with predicting the entire trajectory of a student’s future prospects based on coursework and the school’s historical attainment trends.
But make no mistake, there is more here. Presenting these declining numbers as a simple resurgence to normality obscures many of the longer-term political factors that this cohort has played out in year 13. This conveniently avoids the blame from those whose policies have undermined secondary education in England for years.
Research from 2021 suggests that poor students are up to three A-levels behind their wealthier peers. And today’s results highlight sharp regional differences within this deeply socioeconomically unequal country: there is an eight percentage point gap in the highest grades between the south-east of England and the north-east. And at the other end of the A* spectrum are disadvantaged students who get low grades – this year has seen a sharp rise in the number of E or U (unclassified) grades awarded.
Let’s be clear: today’s 18-year-olds were barely out of primary school when former chancellor George Osborne began his austerity program in the June 2010 budget, but they were undoubtedly children of austerity.
During their elementary and secondary school years, they see class sizes increase, extracurricular opportunities disappear and more and more of their teachers leave the profession. Today’s schoolchildren who grew up in the poorest households can feel their parents’ wages and benefits decrease as the cost of living rises.
During my seven years of teaching in some of the poorest areas of the country, I have seen how rising levels of poverty affect young people academically and pastorally – and how this is compounded by the triple danger of drastic cuts in public services, wage freezes. and lack of meaningful government support for families who need it most. I see students hungry in the morning or without a coat or decent shoes in winter.
And with continuing education allowance long since abolished in England (it provides financial support to keep young people in 16-19 education), there is little support available to ensure that older tin -youth can’t miss school to get a part-time job to subsidize. low wages of their parents.
This is what comes to mind when I see headlines about falling grades. Unlike many politicians, teachers cannot ignore the extreme poverty that exists in this country because we face it every day in our classrooms. Yes, Covid is one of the reasons, but poverty is the untold story of today’s results. So, sure, call falling grades a “return to normal” — the problem is that what passes for “normal” in education these days isn’t good enough.