‘Powerless and victimised’: Harold Hill students distraught at A-level algorithm injustice

PUBLISHED: 19:00 20 August 2020 | UPDATED: 22:10 20 August 2020

From left to right: Sukhjit Singh, Benedict Addo, headmaster Mr Darren Luckhurst and Krishan Vichhi. Picture: Adriana Elgueta

From left to right: Sukhjit Singh, Benedict Addo, headmaster Mr Darren Luckhurst and Krishan Vichhi. Picture: Adriana Elgueta

Adriana Elgueta

Drapers’ Academy is one of many schools whose students A-level results were disproportionately docked by exams regulator, Ofqual. Now, in a post-U-turn and pre-university limbo, three A* students talk about how the fiasco has led to them missing out on university places and, how some students’ lives have been unfairly changed forever.

Krishan Vichhi from Romford was lucky enough to still get his place at the University of Warwick. Picture: Adriana ElguetaKrishan Vichhi from Romford was lucky enough to still get his place at the University of Warwick. Picture: Adriana Elgueta

Top of the class student Sukhjit Singh, 18, from Elm Park, was expecting A*AA in his A-level results and never doubted his chances of getting into Birmingham University to study computer science.

When he received two CCs last week and the news that he had not been accepted at either of his university choices, he was left shaken and panicked: “I just think is crazy that this has happened, there’s no evidence to suggest that I was ever going to get a C.”

Likewise, Drapers’ Academy head boy Benedict Addo, 19, from Dagenham, was predicted A*AA and was also landed with ACC. He was hoping to study chemical engineering but the University of Nottingham has told him he can no longer do the course of his choice.

Krishan Vichhi, 18, from Romford, missed his predicted A*s in maths and further maths. Curiously, his maths grade was lower than the further maths, which Krishan said “didn’t make sense” given the more advanced difficulty of further maths.

Thankfully, after hours trying to get through to Warwick University to find out whether he’d missed his spot, he was told that his was one of five prospective students’ applications where they had to do a “last-minute change at senior level” in order to offer him a place.

Teachers’ estimates carrying more weight in smaller class sizes meant schools with larger class sizes were at a disadvantage

Sukhjit said: “They say it’s one per cent [of grades dramatically docked] but I know loads of people in the same position which makes me feel like it is targeted, like it is an injustice to poorer schools. There’s definitely been a bias because of how they worked out the algorithm and I feel totally powerless now.”

Teachers were asked to supply a ranking compared with every other pupil at the school within that same estimated grade which was compared to last year’s results. Where there were fewer than five pupils studying a subject at a school, their grades were decided only on the basis of teachers’ estimates, without a ranking. Where there were between five and 15 entrants for a subject, teachers’ assessments would still be given more weight.

Krishan added for that maths “I think the grade was lower because not only were we put into a group of larger variants, we also were put against last year’s normals math class which sat a pretty controversial paper.”

Benedict Addo from Dagenham was told by the University of Nottingham that he could no longer study his subject of choice due to his docked grades. Picture: Adriana ElguetaBenedict Addo from Dagenham was told by the University of Nottingham that he could no longer study his subject of choice due to his docked grades. Picture: Adriana Elgueta

For further maths, Krishan’s class was the first at Draper’s Academy, and hence there was no one else to rank their grades against.

“Further maths is significantly more difficult and has a lot of new concepts that are entirely separate from the normal maths. You only have a class size of four so they could only use our mock data in that case, which makes sense why I did better in that subject.”

“It’s like they just ignored all of our mock grades”

The students all agreed that the final results did not seem to have a logical basis. For chemistry and maths, students at Drapers’ were given weekly tests that were recorded.

“There was plenty of data to support our progress,” said Krishan. “It just felt like they weren’t considering everything or just they chose to ignore all of this.”

Sukhjit said: “Also, the information about the appealing process was so vague and didn’t cover anything, no information was given on what made a valid mock until two days ago, and then they take it all back and then repeat it.”

Krishan added: “They said their model was ‘robust’ but on what grounds? You could say, ‘yes it conforms to a statistical model based on the fact that they were getting the expected numbers of As and A*s’, but were they going to the right people?”

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No compassion, no communication

Headmasters of Drapers' Academy, Darren Luckhurst. Picture: Adriana ElguetaHeadmasters of Drapers' Academy, Darren Luckhurst. Picture: Adriana Elgueta

Sukhjit said: “They [the government] don’t consider the fact that any one person who didn’t get the grades they need to go to university, their life has changed forever.”

“We all apply in January for that security - when you apply, you create an image of your head of what it’s going to be like and where your life is going, and to suddenly find out in one day that you’re not going anymore, due to something that is totally out of your hands - you just feel powerless.”

Now with the U-turn, universities have gone from reviewing just a few applications to now having to reconsider hundreds, with questions over how they will have enough places.

“I understand also what they’re going though now in all this chaos, they’re taking the full force of the problems that the government have produced - but I do just want to know, will I be guaranteed a space? And they just haven’t got back to me,” said Sukhjit.

Benedict agreed: “It feels like I’m in limbo - I’m just eagerly waiting for a response, I know that’s how a lot of people feel right now.”

Aside from the universities and higher authorities, the boys said that thankfully, they were in a school where the communication was good - the new grading system and the government’s updates were being explained to them by their teachers to the best of their ability - but their peers at other schools were not so fortunate.

Sukhjit explained: “At colleges with thousands of students, it’s just been impossible to explain complexity of the synthesis grade thing, there’s not been enough communication, there’s no relationships between the teachers and students, they can’t get the help they deserve, it’s unfair.”

“In my experience, there was a lack of compassion from everyone apart from the school, from an algorithm perspective, you just can’t consider these lives that you’re ruining, I was just shunned to the side by clearing. They say ‘you don’t have the grades,’ but no - it’s the grades that I was assigned by forces out of my control, that weren’t high enough.”

Six formers now voting age, time for change?

Headmaster Darren Luckhurst said: “For the government to not trust our teachers, it’s another blight to the profession that won’t encourage others to come into the system.

“I also really hope that the government will now actually look at the performance tables and the way it’s all assessed, I would like to see a big shake-up.

“What does need immediate consideration though is the next year 11s and 13s - they’ve also missed six months of school, how is that going to be assessed? This worries me and I want answers. Our staff need to plan.”

For Sukhjit: “It affects my wellbeing - I’m being forced to go through something that I didn’t create - I didn’t have a say in any of this, and that’s one of the worst things about it.”

Benedict said: “Everything that I’d planned for this whole year, this is the one extreme condition where I didn’t have a plan. It’s affected me and also it’s stressful for my family who have change things because of this.”

Krishan said: “Politically? A lot of sixth form students are now voting age, they’re going to have a pretty valid reason to want the current government out, as well the parents of us disproportionately affected students.

“Many may have loss trust and become incensed by this, it could lead to a whole paradigm shift in the future.”

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