The class of 2020-21 had an A-level experience unlike many others. Teacher-assessed grades replaced exams across the UK, culminating in the widest results gap between private and state schools in the modern era.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all in one way or another. It has caused setbacks in gender equality across the world, shown us the consequences of institutionally racist systems throughout the UK, and caused suffering in our personal lives. The results A-level students have received this summer have also shown the UK is far from a classless society in the way our education system continues to exacerbate inequalities.
Of those educated at a private school, 70% received an A or A* in comparison to 39% at state schools. This was not just the result of the multitude of reasons why a student at a private school may achieve a higher result than a student at a state school, but grade inflation was also 3 percentage points higher. According to the Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, 23% of private school teachers experienced pressure from student’s parents about grades, whilst in comprehensive schools this was only 11%, which could contribute to the discrepancy.
In 2019, the last time students’ results were rewarded on the basis of examination, there was a much smaller gap of 24% between students receiving an A or A* in private and state schools. Sir Peter Lampl, the founder and chair of the Sutton Trust said “state schools – particularly those in less affluent areas – have been hit [harder] by the pandemic”.
Students who may have had struggles within their home life and may have had less access to technology or who could not afford additional tutoring were affected the most by disrupted and online learning. In regards to this, Sir Kevan Collins, the former education recovery commissioner, argued “we should be thinking about the inequality throughout the system”.
Whilst it is deeply disappointing that teacher-assessed grades have grown the gap between results in private and state schools, this should not necessarily be the main focus of the issue. Despite being smaller, the gap in results in 2019 is still shocking and not something that we should become desensitised to. There was no pandemic to blame for the disparity in results in previous years, meaning it is the structure of the education system in the UK that is allowing such a rigid class system to remain. All young people across the UK deserve school facilities and teaching of the same quality – students should not require the ‘correct’ postcode or socio-economic background to start their life on an equal playing field.
If more funding is not given to state schools across the UK, especially in areas that have already been deprived, the gap between the results from private and state schools will continue to grow and many talented and bright young people may continue to be robbed of their potential.