Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Mind the Gap! The Levelling up Agenda Must Extend to Education.


As the fog dissipates, three things have become painfully clear: the algorithm Ofqual used to calculate this year's GCSE and A-level results did contain class bias, the so-called 'triple lock' actually secured nothing and over the course of lockdown the gap between state and independent schools has broadened beyond comprehension. If the debacle of the last week has taught us anything, pupils are much better served by attending classes and sitting assessments as usual rather than relying on algorithms or predictions. 

The results allocated by Ofqual read more like a postcode lottery than the product of a reliable, meritocratic process. Regional disparities were entrenched and the attainment gap widened. It was well known that using historical data of a school's performance would be grossly unfair, with pupils from previously underperforming institutions – typically in poorer areas – more likely to see results downgraded. The north's higher proportion of such deprived areas ultimately broadened the existing gulf with southeast England. 

Ofqual's own Chairman, Roger Taylor, led a study last year that warned against using computers to make decisions about people's lives and determined algorithms could "reinforce pre-existing social inequalities". 

Ofqual acknowledges that due to smaller average class sizes, privately educated pupils were always more likely to be assigned their centre assessment grades (CAGs) than their state educated counterparts: "centres with small cohorts in a given subject either receive their CAGs or have greater weight placed on their CAGs than the statistical evidence". It's no coincidence independent schools saw the largest increase in top grades under their system. 

Despite official estimates suggesting up to 40 per cent of students had been downgraded, Williamson claimed that his statistical modelling would still be more accurate than assigning CAGs. This is now known to be untrue. His 11th hour 'concession' that mock examination results can be used as grounds for appeal was utterly pointless because these are, by Ofqual's own admission, less reliable indicators than teacher-assigned grades. No system is fairer than examinations, but in their absence, CAGs are irrefutably the best option. Most will be relieved to see the 'triple lock' system completely scrapped. 

This government has a duty to extend the levelling up agenda to encompass education. Having rectified current grade allocations, it must now stand up to pugnacious unions in order to ensure schools do re-open come September.

Recent research from the UCL Institute of Education shows that during lockdown 31 per cent of independent schools provided at least 4 lessons daily, compared with just 6 per cent of state schools. They also found 50 per cent of independent schools assigned at least 4 hours' worth of schoolwork daily, compared with just 18 per cent of state schools. Digital poverty is also a substantial hurdle that does not faze independent schools, as 97 per cent of privately educated pupils have access to a computer at home.

State educated pupils will continue to be left behind while schools remain shut. Yet, it is left-wing unions who most passionately make the case against re-opening.

In 2017 the National Union of Teachers (NUT) underwent a rebranding and changed its name to the National Education Union (NEU), presumably because their previous abbreviation was a little on the nose. This change, however, seems to be entire surface level because the response of some schoolteachers and their trade representatives throughout this pandemic has been nothing short of baffling. 

At first, the NEU supported lockdown (well they bemoaned the timing of implementation but ultimately agreed with the decision so I'm counting that as support); then the fear set in. Fear that time spent being taught at home, potentially by right wing parents, would counter their own masterful socialist indoctrination efforts. 'Let schools reopen' teachers began to demand. So, the government announced that come September, they would. And now, the industry body furiously cries, 'how dare you endanger us all!'

British schools are more than capable of adapting to overcome challenges presented by COVID-19. Rigorous tracking and tracing, smaller class sizes and strategically placed hand sanitisers are all simple measures easily put in place without reasonable objection. These methods are already successfully tried and tested in Scotland and Denmark. It does appear the tangible benefits of reopening schools significantly outweigh the potential drawbacks. 

For all their talk about equality of opportunity, by refusing to get back into the classroom militant teacher unions like the NEU are actively creating another generation of left behinds. The PM must stand firm in the face of adversity and press on with the levelling up agenda he promised at the last election. If this means recruiting more teachers who are actually willing to go out and teach, so be it. 

At the end of the day, education is the instrument of social mobility and if the Conservative Party wants to be its champion, embracing CAGs as the most accurate indicator of a pupil's ability (in lieu of exams) was absolutely the right move. Re-opening schools is the next rational step. 

What happened with GCSE and A level results made a mockery of the PM's levelling up agenda, threatened to diminish what little trust exists between Conservatives and young people and was completely unacceptable. It only goes to show that sometimes we have a moral duty to challenge our own in order to secure a brighter future for this generation.

This was an issue of social justice and if we had betrayed thousands on the cusp of enfranchisement now, we would have incurred the cost at the ballot box later.

'Open, Open, Open' Conservatives must cry. Though not as catchy as Mrs. T's 'No, No, No', it sure sends a message. 

In many ways, the battle to re-open schools is Boris Johnson's Thatcher moment.

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