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A message to A level students

When I was the Pastoral Manager for a large further education college, I oversaw the delivery of the tutorial system. One of the things I fought against was running the session where we had to share the students’ ALIS scores with them.

ALIS is a government target setting system that calculates subject specific predictors for A level subjects, based on a student’s GCSE average point score and the performance of previous A level students in that subject over the past three years. The predictors are supposed to be used to inform the setting of ambitious and aspirational targets for students.

I could understand that a person with low GCSE grades may struggle with an academic set of A level subjects but to have this method of telling the student what their final A level grades could be at the very start of their studies did not seem a very fitting way of setting ‘ambitious and aspirational targets’.

Also, I felt the delivery of this information was solely down to the way the personal tutor pitched the information and, so, this was the area I focused my attention. Delivered poorly, you could see a student’s head drop there and then; delivered well and you could see the student accepting the challenge ahead. Through it all, the message I wanted the students to hear from each personal tutor was that this ALIS prediction did not matter. What did matter was how well they worked day by day during their studies.

These ALIS scores were produced via a national algorithm. They were not personal to each student. They were not to be believed. The Government’s hope was that the student would say ‘Hey, I won’t be pigeonholed like this – I’m going to work super hard and prove I can do better than the students before me.’

As I read the news items today about the A level results having been subjected to a similar algorithm, I’m reminded why I wanted these ALIS scores banished from the tutorial syllabus. It’s easy to see how a student can feel marginalised by such an impersonal, data-based algorithm which does not ‘see’ the individual learning, passion and dedication to a subject.

If I could host one huge personal tutor session for every A level student right now I’d tell them all to not worry, to not take it personally; it really is not personal to you and for you to know that you still have options right now (I’m always banging on about options!).

The feelings of injustice, dissatisfaction and disappointment you feel right now will pass. Use this energy bubbling up inside you and look at what you can do:

  1. Tell the school clearly (but kindly) that you are not happy with your grade and use your mock exam results to argue your case. Don’t just communicate with one teacher or tutor, include the Head of Division too.

  2. Positively support your school to argue the case for all their students; perhaps the school is under new leadership? How could you and your peers best support the headteacher in their challenge that the school should not be judged on pervious performance?

  3. Could you sit the actual exam in the autumn? If so, go for it.

The universities are aware that this happening across the United Kingdom. They want you to come to their university. They will have to readdress their entry requirements too. For those of you not going to university, you will be known as the year when the grades were wrong. You’ll be sitting at dinner parties in your 30s comparing your A level grades and laughing at how the system got it so wrong ... or you might be saying that the system worked in your favour.

My message to you is that the most important thing right now is to stay true to yourself. You know how well you did and, with a clear head – free from the storm of over-thinking and the overwhelming feelings of rage, injustice and fear of the future – you be able to see which are the best next options for you.

2020 is not the year of the student.

The Government doesn’t focus on individuals.

Algorithms are based on mass data.

You are not mass data.

You are an individual.

You’ve got this.


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