A-levels: Warning over private and state school gap

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A-levels: Warning over private and state school gap
A-level resultsimage sourceANDY RAIN
The highest ever number of top grades were awarded for A-levels this week

The former schools catch-up tsar says he is worried about the gap in A-level results between state and private school pupils.

Sir Kevan Collins says he is concerned that the "educational legacy of Covid could be growing inequality".

For independent school pupils in England, 70% of A-level results were A* or A, compared with 39% for comprehensive pupils.

A-level results on Tuesday showed record levels of top grades.

Sir Kevan, speaking on the USAGovNews Radio 4's Today programme, warned of a "huge risk" of widening social gaps in education in the aftermath of the pandemic.

'Deep problem'

"This is a deep problem in our system and one that seems to be growing," said Sir Kevan, who for his school recovery proposals.

The gaps were not just between state and private pupils, he said, but also in different parts of the country, warning about parts of the north of England falling behind. In London almost 48% of results were A* and A grades, compared with 39% in the North East.

Advice to A-level students: 'We had to be creative'

"We should be thinking about the inequality throughout the system,"

Sir Kevan said the response to helping schools recover after the pandemic would "determine the fate of the English education system" for the next decade.

"We've got to get that right," he said.

In the wake of such high grades in A-levels, with almost 45% getting A* or A grades, there have been suggestions of a change in the grading system, such as adopting the use of a 9 to 1 system such as used in GCSEs.

'Unrealistic'

But head teachers have said that any short-term change to a numeric system was "unrealistic".

Paul Whiteman of the National Association of Head Teachers said it took four years to plan the switch to using number grades for GCSEs.

Any change will require "meaningful consultation to ensure the fairest system for students," he said.

Kevan Collinsimage sourceAlamy
Sir Kevan Collins warned of widening social gaps in school after the pandemic

Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, said "rather than tinkering with different grading systems, the government should be concentrating on providing appropriate support for education recovery".

Exams are already going to be adapted next summer, to take account of lost time in school, but Mr Barton warned it would be "very harsh" on next year's exam candidates to have grades returned straight down to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

Before the pandemic about 25% of results were top grades - this week they were almost 45% - and Mr Barton suggested there would need to be a "staged readjustment" from next year.

Labour's shadow education secretary Kate Green said the gap between results in state and private schools showed the lack of consistency in how grades were decided.

"The government didn't set down a clear standardised process early on last year - and schools were really awarding grades in very different ways," she said.

Discussions about changing the grading system was "just tweaking the system to get the government out of a difficult story", said Ms Green.

"There has been an increase in top grades for students from all backgrounds, and the relative increase of the proportion of As and above on last year is no higher in independent schools than in academies," said a Department for Education spokeswoman.

"We are committed to supporting students from all backgrounds. Ofqual report that the assessment approach this year is likely to have helped prevent previous gaps from widening as much as they would have done without this year's grading process."

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