unequal ofqual education
by Kasper Hassett

After the government’s U-turn on GCSE and A-level moderation, widespread celebration has broken out among student and teaching communities alike. But, drowned out by the cheering, a yet unsolved problem remains: the injustice and uncertainty for those taking BTECs, who have been left behind in the race to secure places at chosen further and higher education institutions. 

On the 19th of August, when level 2 BTEC students and GCSE students alike were anticipating their results the following morning, Pearson announced it would withhold the results of the BTECs alone in order to recalculate the final grades. Of course, this was a move to rectify grades that would have been unfairly dependent on schools’ past performances, but initially BTECs were excluded from the government’s U-turn on moderated results, causing a host of problems for those taking them. The additional wait will prevent these pupils from confirming places in further education which are dependent on prior attainment. Places at sixth forms and colleges are allocated first to those pupils who took GCSEs, and this could make it harder for BTEC students to be accepted into their first choice institutions, as well as causing avoidable emotional turmoil for the young pupils forced to wait longer as their peers taking GCSEs discuss and share their results.

This year, there have essentially been three tiers to being accepted by universities

Also facing unfair chances of claiming places in educational settings in September, many level 3 BTEC students have reported not receiving their final grades, and with no explanation, despite these having been due on the 13th alongside A-level grades. For those wanting to progress to university, this puts them at the bottom of the pile for places. This year, there have essentially been three tiers to being accepted by universities: the top tier are the advantaged students from well-performing schools, whose A-level grades were not reduced in moderation. They are the first students to redeem offers, and universities fill up with the intake of these students first. The middle tier are the students who did not meet their offers on results day due to being treated unfavourably by the moderation system, but whose grades were restored to teacher predictions following the government U-turn. There are already concerns that universities will be unable to honour all offers which were met due to prioritising the first tier, but this now extends to a third. BTEC students still waiting for results which seem to have been lost are left in a limbo – they do not know if their places in higher education are secure and are unable to look into clearing routes or other alternatives without any grades with which to apply.

The initial failure of the government to include BTEC results in the grading U-turn is insulting at best, demonstrating that the Tories will do the bare minimum to rectify their mistakes and appease the population. The poor timing of these amendments is causing BTEC students to miss out, becoming the ‘last pickings’ for sixth form, college and university places despite already being faced with limited options in that few institutions or courses accept BTEC grades for admission. This is an additional hurdle along with an already pervasive stigma over the value of their qualifications.  

Conservative ideology regards the education system as a complete meritocracy, ignoring entirely the effects of hardship and disparate education on students. To the right-wing, of whom some prominent education commentators have an unnerving fascination with eugenics, ability is innate, and those who succeed in education are inevitably those carrying natural skill and intelligence from birth. For MPs, exposure to poor pupils in their own education is unlikely, with 39% of the previous cabinet privately educated compared with just 7% of the general population. However, it is not ignorance alone which drives their contempt for the working classes, but also malice. Even though MPs have a duty to understand, empathise with and work to solve the worries of their constituents, many instead feign oblivion to the barriers to education which affect poorer pupils disproportionately, colluding with other MPs to create unjust policy.

Community organising has been the only factor preventing the government from imposing deeply troubling and classist models to determine young people’s futures. If it were not for powerful protests organised by youth, the grades given to (or not given to) students would be universally dire, save for the most privileged. Now, it is time to show the same level of solidarity with those students affected by the second-class treatment of BTEC qualifications, because without an outraged majority, the Conservatives will always push for the worst outcome for the people. 

Featured image NR

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