A levels = Algorithm as Leveller: Why we need an Oath of Non-Harm, a new dance floor and not just a return to the same old inequality waltz by Peter Shukie
The A Level fiasco of 2020 appears at first to be a series of manoeuvres in which an algorithm provided naked evidence of university access being biased. A Levels – Advanced Levels – provide the educational borderland, the sifting space where young people get sorted in readiness for their university applications. In the period between school leaving (aged 16) and with two years of study, the grades of these Advanced Level qualifications decide which university a student attends. Each university and course sets its own standards – A* as the highest, and with conditions of entry based on the accumulation of as high a series of grades as possible. Oxford, Cambridge, Russell Group universities and courses in Medicine and Law tend to set the highest tariffs. Results day is an annual event in England and Wales as the populace focuses on who has achieved and who has not. This carnival dominates late August media coverage with a stampede by broadcast and print media to join in the furore. It all seems so natural, so common sense, although I had to add this description as I was reminded by an Italian colleague that such a system is not at all common, and is really rather ridiculous.
Ridiculous or not, this system is so well ingrained in the national psyche that we often miss the massive significance it has in maintaining social stratification. The scandal of 2020 was that we saw things anew, stripped of the usual acceptance of success being rewarded/ failure being discarded we saw that the system was loaded, biased, unfair and discriminatory. State schools were disadvantaged, private schools given priority, the better-off pupils finding easier access to the prestigious spaces of learning. As goes every other year – except this year, the sifting process of examinations did not even take place.