With the recent news that many A-Level students in the UK from lower-income areas have received downgraded results, many students are now experiencing significant difficulty in gaining admission to their university of choice. Protests broke out today, on the 16th of August, at Parliament Square, London, to appeal against the results which was assessed via an algorithm created by Ofqual. Additionally, with the Tory government’s poor handling of COVID which has disproportionately affected black and Asian ethnic minorities, it can no longer be mistaken that it seems like a war on the poor.
Among the schools affected is Mulberry School for Girls Sixth Form based in East London, Tower Hamlets, which is the poorest borough in London. Granted, I attended a different college for A-Levels, but Mulberry School for Girls was the secondary school I attended, and, naturally, it’s very close to my heart. I received nothing but wonderful support from the teachers and staff during my studies with staff going above and beyond to ensure that we received the best opportunities, and I even received paid work experience. As well as this, I’m always shocked to find out how terribly bullying incidents are handled in other schools and this is because Mulberry School for Girls did a fantastic job in ensuring bullying was promptly and appropriately dealt with whilst still maintaining compassion for all students involved. My heart goes out to the students affected by the biased grading system. You can read more about how A-Level results (2020) has affected students from Mulberry School for Girls here.
Now, my younger sister, Maryam, attends Mulberry School for Girls Sixth Form. She’s in her first year of A-Levels, so, very fortunately, she has just about escaped the Tory government’s vicious war waged against the working-class. Today, I’ve invited my sister to speak to me about Mulberry School for Girls and how the Ofqual grading system has negatively affected both students and teachers.
In the interests of confidentiality, my sister’s name has been changed.
“I DON’T WANT MULBERRY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS SIXTH FORM TO BE THOUGHT OF AS A FAILING SCHOOL.”
Our Sixth Form is based in the poorest borough in London. So, the downgraded results… it’s classism. They know our livelihood depends on our education. We need good grades and results; we need a good education to be able to provide for our family. Yes, there will be resits but how is this safe and appropriate in a pandemic? Even if the government cover the costs, where is the reassurance that the marks will be fair the next time around? I don’t want my school to be thought of as a failing school just because of our post code because we are a good school with qualified teachers. We’re a good school. We’re good. Why should our academic achievements be dictated by our social class?
There are rumours regarding a second wave and, therefore, we might have a winter lockdown. This means that the new Year 13’s will yet again miss out on content and would need to rely on online resources which not everyone may have access to. Furthermore, A-level students have to sit the exams with full two-year content when, in reality, we would have missed out on a year’s content with full depth of understanding because of lockdown.
It is unfair to say that A-level students should agree to sitting the standard exams because they are more “mature”. This disregards any mental health issues students are facing in this pandemic and, regardless of age, it is near impossible and different when learning virtually to complete full A-level exams.
“STUDENTS HAVE WORKED HARD FOR TWO YEARS FOR IT TO BOIL DOWN TO OUR SOCIAL CLASS.”
Getting into university to study Medicine is difficult as it is, and Chemistry is the most difficult subject. However, headlines showing that 100% of chemistry grades have been downgraded just because of the borough the school is located in is clear example of classism. Students have worked hard for two years for it to boil down to our social class. They stated that the results would be fair, but it hasn’t benefited black and non-black POC.
“THE TORY GOVERNMENT HAVE NEVER SERVED THE INTERESTS [OF POC].”
The algorithm needs to be changed. I know the Tory government won’t do that. They’re not a government for POC, they’ve never served our interests. Protests have been taking place at Parliament Square today to appeal for fair results. However, I personally believe that once you’re in power, you just want to maintain the power regardless of the actions you commit and the lives you ruin.
“I’M HAVING TO PUT MY LIFE AT RISK TO GET AN EDUCATION.”
Travelling to college wasn’t an issue before, however, now that we have to pay to travel to school, it is extremely difficult when you’re from a low-income background. There have been mentions of potential fines on parents if their child doesn’t go to school, but in this pandemic knowing that COVID affects black and non-black POC much more, it is like choosing between life and education.. I’m having to put my life at risk to get an education. It’s frustrating that private school students may not have to go back when they can possibly afford it.
Year 13 students tend to start applying for jobs in order to have some sort of income, so that we can buy lunch or provide for our families. Now, with travelling charges, it doesn’t make sense. Those who don’t have a vehicle and have to use public transport are having to pay to travel and during a pandemic… it’s just not safe. It is estimating that it may be £10 a week for a student to travel and it is unfair.
“EVERY TEACHER WORKS HARD TO PROVIDE THE BEST FOR US.”
Many teachers and students were crying. Mulberry School for Girls has a lot of diversity in its teaching staff. Every teacher works hard to provide the best for us, and some teachers come in even when they were unwell just to give us quality resources for our lessons. Now, both the hard work of our teachers and students have been undermined by a poorly created and biased algorithm.
“[OUR HEAD TEACHER, VANESSA OGDEN] BRINGS IN AS MANY OPPORTUNITIES AS SHE CAN FOR MULBERRY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.”
Our Headteacher, Vanessa Ogden, has set up Mulberry University Technical College (UTC) specialising in design and technology which she has set up very well. She, also, created a fund for Mulberry Academy Shoreditch and Mulberry UTC. My Head Teacher is doing her absolute best; she brings in as many opportunities as she can for Mulberry School for Girls. She’s making links and partnerships to make the school stronger, and it’s delivered a positive impact on the students at Mulberry School.
We were given a lot of reassurance during our last assembly before lockdown was enforced, and, although it was very emotional, there was a message of hope concerning our grades and in the way the online school system was set up.
Vanessa Ogden is very supportive of the students, and any global issues, like Islamophobia, are always brought up in our assemblies and we are made sure to know how to keep safe. When the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction, our History lessons adapted where other schools may not have. We received an email in which we were educated about what was going on with the BLM movement and how the language used back then should never be used now. Teachers were willingly setting extra lessons where students were informed about how [BLM] should be taken seriously.
There are many ways Mulberry School for Girls has provided us, its students, with opportunities. To name a few:
- Trust funds
- Essay writing competitions
- WOW festival at the London Eye
- Visits and events delivered in partnership with Bank of America
- A visit from Michelle Obama
- Work experience opportunities in our field of interest with good links located in Central London.
- Oxbridge campaign – extra support is given 6 months before UCAS deadlines in which Medicine and Humanities subjects were divided in order to make it easier to establish career goals. This made it easier to be granted referees and mentors who have a background in the subjects we are interested in.
“ALTHOUGH I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH, I AM NOW HESITANT ABOUT MY DREAM.”
Psychology is a subject where if you aren’t passionate enough about the subject, you may not want to take it as a career option. With Psychology, people are hesitant as it touches on mental health issues and many universities do not major or rank high in this subject. In London, there weren’t many options other than the Russell groups: King’s College and Imperial College. There are many more universities I can consider, but they are based outside London. Now that grade requirements are high, it is more difficult knowing that my final A-Level grades may be based on the fact that my Sixth Form is located in Tower Hamlets. Although I am highly passionate about children’s mental health, I am now hesitant about my dream.
Are you or has anyone you know been impacted by the recent A-Level grading system? What are your thoughts on Ofqual? What needs to be done to secure a more hopeful future for young working-class students? Let me know in the comments.