Who won and who lost: when A-levels meet the algorithm

Almost 40% of teachers’ recommended English A-level grades were downgraded this year, with final results decided by algorithm following the cancellation of exams. But not all students fared equally. Poorer students and those studying at comprehensive schools are among those more likely to have received lower grades based on algorithmically assigned results.

More disadvantaged students downgraded

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to be downgraded. More than one in 10 of the most deprived students who would have achieved a C grade or above based on their teacher’s predictions were downgraded, compared with one in 12 of the most privileged students.

Before adjustment, 85% of the most deprived students were predicted a C grade or above, but 74.6% received at least a C after standardisation – meaning 10.4% of those students were downgraded. By contrast 8.3% of the least deprived students and 9.5% of students in the middle category received lower grades than predicted.

Ofqual said its model took into account that students from lower socioeconomic background tended to be awarded lower grades than predicted.

More top grades awarded to private schools

Private schools received more than twice as many A and A* grades as comprehensives after standardisation. Ofqual data shows 48.6% of students at independent schools received an A*-A grade, compared with 21.8% of students at comprehensive schools.

Private schools also increased the proportion of students achieving the top grades at a much faster rate than comprehensive schools, compared with 2019. The year-on-year increase for independent schools was 4.7 percentage points while comprehensive schools saw a rise of 2 points.

Fewer top grades awarded in north-east and north-west England

Those sitting their A-levels in the Midlands, London and south-west England fared better than their counterparts in the north-west and north-east in terms of the uplift on last year’s A-level results.

All regions experienced a rise in the proportion of A or A* grades issued in this year’s exam cycle. But the year-on-year rise in the proportion of students achieving A or A* grades was more marked in the east Midlands and London at 3.4 and 2.9 percentage points respectively.

Conversely, the change was lowest in north-east and north-west England at 1.9 and 1.8 percentage points.

Gender gap narrows slightly

The gap between the best-performing boys and girls narrowed slightly. The proportion of boys who got A* was 9.3%, compared with 8.8% of girls who achieved an A*.

Girls extended their lead for A grades, however. More than a quarter (28.4%) of girls were awarded an A*–A this year – 1.1 percentage points higher than boys (27.3%). In 2019 girls led boys by a minuscule 0.1 percentage points (25.5% girls, 25.4% boys). Meanwhile, 80.4% of girls achieved grades A* – C compared with 75% of boys – a 5.4% difference.

Gap between white and black students remains

The attainment gap between black and white students narrowed marginally this year, with almost 8% more white students receiving a top grade. More than a quarter of white students (25.5%) received an A-A* grade, compared with 17.7% of black students. The gap decreased slightly from last year by 0.5 percentage points.

Asian students also received fewer top grades than white students, with 22% getting at least an A grade. Chinese students performed the best of any ethnic group, with 39.7% receiving the top marks.

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