August 25, 2020 | 3 minutes read

Exam grade fiasco exposes inequality inherent in education

With a coercive policy and a chaotic U-turn, one thing is clear; we must destroy everything that makes education an instrument of capitalist class rule.

Exam grade fiasco exposes inequality inherent in education

This year, students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland initially received A Level grades based not only on their predicted grades but on an unnecessarily extensive “standardisation” system designed by Ofqual. Nearly 40% of teachers’ recommended grades were downgraded. Working class and state school students were more likely to have their grades adjusted downwards and the attainment gap between those students on free school meals widened considerably, alongside the gap between students with and without special educational needs.

Any standardisation system will disadvantage students who are outperforming their cohort and will advantage those who are underperforming. When these “cohorts” are defined on a per-school basis, it is clear that students at state schools are likely to be downgraded more often than those at independent schools.

The coverage around this has focused on why this happened; on the algorithm, class sizes, the prior attainment adjustment. This fails to address the fundamental issues at play in the education system.

At no point in the process, from gathering mock grades and predicted grades, to designing and running an algorithm, to publishing results and leaving it up to students and universities to decide how to handle missed grades, did anyone consider what realities are being forged. Someone signed off on putting results out there that, by everyone’s analysis, treat independent school students differently from state school students.

The government, having said they would not change their position and follow the example in Scotland, reverted to predicted grades and now seeks to blame Ofqual, and has displaced the administrative burden onto universities.

That standardisation was ever considered reveals the deep contempt that this government has for working class children, who are disproportionately Black and other racially oppressed minorities. Furthermore, it reveals the lengths this government will go to in order to reinforce the class divide, to keep working class students from accessing higher education. It comes as a further attack on teachers who were thought to be untrustworthy in their grade predictions despite the fact that it was reported that it is private schools that have a culture of inflating grades.

Red Fightback contend that resolving this situation does not lie in adjusting grades, in universities accepting all students, in outreach or free tutoring or retakes. We argue that the conditions that produced this should be abolished. Examination based assessment is inherently unreliable and ableist, providing only a one-dimensional snapshot of a students’ ability. Teachers who work with students throughout the year are better placed to judge what grades are appropriate. However, we would see this as an opportunity to rethink education more radically.

In capitalist society, the purpose of the education system is to reproduce the class system through withholding education from the working class, through inspiring students with devotion and respect for capitalism and through producing new capitalists who will control the working population. The education system in Britain does this extremely effectively. Note that more than half of the fifty-five Prime Ministers to date were educated at the University of Oxford. Twenty went to just one school (Eton College). There have been only nine PMs who were not educated at private schools (for comparison, nine PMs were educated at both Eton and Christ Church, Oxford). The ruling class in Britain, from journalists to law and policy makers to police chiefs and CEOs, is dominated by those who attended private schools and Oxbridge.

Our current education system turns class privilege into academic achievement where the children of the rich (who have access to private schools, private tutors and secure home environments) are granted high grades which then give them entry into the top universities. Even without academic achievement, the name recognition alone of high-class private schools such as Eton and Harrow (or the simple fact of attending private school) brings with it a promise of status, and can open many doors kept closed for those of a more modest educational background. From these facts, we can clearly see that private education offers an easy route to power and success. High costs keep this route exclusively available to the bourgeoisie, ensuring that the road to power is only open to those who already possess it. In capitalism, class reproduces class.

We must destroy everything that makes the school and the university an instrument of capitalist class rule. We often think of educational sites as distinct places of learning; there is no university or school under capitalism that will not serve capitalism. We must campaign to turn the school into a site of true liberatory education.