The A-Level Fiasco: Exposing the First Level of the Class System in Britain - Our Education System

Funmi Oduniyi discusses the A-Levels fiasco and what this means for students.

It’s been a few months since my last article but this latest topic has brought me out of hiatus due to my strong feelings over it. I was listening to testimonies from students who saw their grade drop by 2 or 3 due to the mere fact that they live in a certain neighbourhood and it just displays another symptom of the key issue that runs through this country – Classism. While racism is rightfully the topic of discussion for the last few months, classism is an issue which this country has been grappling with long before racism and is arguably synonymous with Britain itself. Hopefully, in this blog, I will use this A level fiasco as an example of how early classism works in the country and sets rich and poor citizens on different paths before they have the chance to make a life for themselves.

So What Actually Happened in the A Level Fiasco

The Education Secretary announced that an algorithm would be used instead of teachers’ prediction to predict A level grades for students. The algorithm was based on the historical performance of the school alongside a ranking system where all students were ranked in their year. This algorithm would only work for class sizes above 15. The results of this algorithm were dire with many students – over 280,000[i] seeing their predicted grades downgraded – with from poor neighbourhoods being disproportionately affected. On the other hand, Private schools disproportionately benefited from this with the percentage of A or A* grades rising by 4.7%[ii] at independent schools this year – mainly due to the fact their class sizes were less than 15 which was the minimum requirement for the algorithm.

To me, the algorithm and results are indicative and emblematic of the current class issue we have in this country. The idea of basing results of previous years’ performance ignores the progress schools make – especially state schools – in their education and is says two things to me. Firstly, that if you’re from a poor background and go to a state school, you’re inherently less intelligent than those from a richer neighbourhood. Secondly, We view private schools on a different footing as state schools. For me the class size requirement proved this to me as a class size of under 15 is unheard of in state schools, especially with the impact of austerity on school budgets, meaning those who’ll benefit from being under 15 was exclusively private schools. For a party which is so vocal about its belief in individualism and hard work in improving your life, the downgrading of grades, which is in most cases the only route out of poverty, was a slap in the face to social mobility.

Education Pipeline for the Elite – Private School to Power

The handling of this mess also highlighted to me the clear ways in which Classism is upheld from such a young age via the education system. To highlight this, let’s look at the top two schools in the country – Oxford and Cambridge. About 7% of pupils in the UK attend private school yet they made up 35% of students at Cambridge and 38% at Oxford[iii]. In fact, if you just look at secondary schools and universities attended by former Prime ministers and It is clear to see they have come from a select few schools. Out of the 55 prime ministers to date 42 attended Oxbridge and 20 of them attended Eton[iv]. It’s clear to see there’s a clear pipeline between private schools to Oxbridge to politics. We currently have a system which places the elite in the best universities in the country and in the end into the positions of power within this country. This inevitably has become an unending cycle which has meant the policies of this country have generally worked in favour of the elite and as long as there is a pipeline from private schools to Power, the entrenched classism which manifests itself in policies such as austerity will only continue to prosper.

So Do We Abolish Private Schools?

To start off, as someone who has been fortunate to go to a private school, I was able to see the subtle differences which in the end make a whole heap of difference in the outcome of your life. This ranges from smaller class sizes with more access to teachers, increased resources, the sports programs, the school trips l, the public speakers, the extra support staff, the quality of teachers. Were the students much smarter than the average state school pupil? I doubt it, but these advantages meant we were put in better stead for the real world. So we have to start from a place which says that Private schools undeniably give you a leg up over the rest of the population.

While I don’t believe Private schools should be abolished, I do believe more needs to be done to raise the standard of state school education and creating a positive externality from private schools. A method of this could be adding a tax for Private schools, which gives the message that “cool, you can go to your private school which may give you extra benefits, but it’s going to cost you and we’re going to make sure it benefits the rest of society through the tax revenue raised”. The added tax revenue from private schools can then be reinvested directly into state schools, improving the resources available and thus, the quality of education. Those calling for private schools to be abolished are short-sighted because that won’t make state schools better. All It means is that the privileged either go into a dysfunctional system or are homeschooled. The focus needs to be on improving the quality of state education, not reducing everyone to a lower standard of education. For example, imagine if there were no private schools, we still would have had austerity which has decimated school budgets and resources and would, in fact, have more even more pressure put on these budgets due to more pupils.

To round off, there is no debate over the existence of a two-tiered society perpetuated from an early stage with the existence of private schools. It is clear that going to private schools which are almost exclusively for the elite, disproportionately benefits the outcomes of those pupils which further embeds the class issue in this country. But rather than abolishing private schools, we need to focus on having an education system which matches the quality of private school education – and that comes from Policy changes and ensuring the benefits of private schools are felt by all.

Funmi is a recent graduate currently working in the asset management industry with a thirst for politics and in creating a society where a level playing field is central.

His interests include politics and finance led him to rearing a blog page called ‘fosperspectives’ where he writes articles related to politics, finance and economic development. This has grown into an instagram page where he provide regular updates and content related to politics and finance.

He tweets at @fosperspectives 

He also posts on Instagram at @fosperspectives

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