A humiliating government U-turn over exam results has failed to stop a student revolt.
The Tories were forced to retreat earlier this week, following furious protests against the downgrading of students’ results.
Hundreds of thousands had seen their results pulled down by an algorithm that favoured students at schools in richer areas. Within days, the Tories had to concede that A-Level, AS Level and GCSE students could have their “centre assessed grades” instead.
Exam board OCR has also announced that students who took its Cambridge Technicals and Cambridge Nationals qualifications will also receive centre assessed grades.
The U-turn means that GCSE results released on Thursday in England and Wales should be higher in general than they would have been. But there is rightly still anger over the scandal – and the U-turn hasn’t solved all of the problems.
BTec student Glen told Socialist Worker why a growing network of students is organising to keep protesting.
“We are going to have protests around the country on Friday and Saturday – we are calling it ‘the Weekender’,” he said.
“The U-turn was a massive victory, but it was one victory in a long, long war. This is only going to finish when we get education reform and get rid of scum like Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson.
“We are spreading the word that the job isn’t done.”
BTec students weren’t initially affected by the government U-turn – meaning Glen’s lower-than expected grades remained. But now exam board Pearson has said it will look again at the grades.
It’s good that pressure is being put on exam boards over downgrading. But the delay means even more BTec students now face longer waits for their results – and yet more uncertainty about their futures.
Glen described how students across Britain have made links via Instagram and other social media to organise demonstrations. Students drew up new demands and actions over Zoom calls.
Protests are planned in Luton, Manchester, London, Liverpool, Bristol and many other places. London will see a protest at Downing Street on Friday, and a march from Marble Arch to the Department for Education is planned for Saturday.
Students in year 12, who are due to sit A-Levels and equivalent exams next year, are also organising.
Julia from the A-Level 2021 Strike group said students are worried about the exams system and also how the pandemic will affect them. They want more done to protect students – and to ensure they don’t lose out because of disruption to their education due to the virus.
“Our main priority is more consideration for year 12s, such as content reduction in courses,” Julia told Socialist Worker. “We also want more guidance if there is a second wave that causes us to miss out on school.”
The group is involved in organising protests in London, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Coventry and Cornwall on Saturday 29 August.
And the NUS students’ union has called protests across Britain on Thursday. Demonstrations were set to take place in London, Sheffield, Manchester, Coventry and Bristol from 1pm.
The breadth of the revolt shows that, despite the government’s retreat, the crisis facing the Tories is far from over.
Many students will rightly be relieved that the U-turn that will largely mean higher grades. But students still won’t receive the grades their teachers predicted. The centre assessed grades have also gone through a process of “moderation”.
And for a layer of activists the scandal has shone a light on many other injustices – fuelling a wider struggle.
Glen said demands for this weekend’s protests include the sacking of education secretary Gavin Williamson and transparency for BTec students.
He added, “We want students who weren’t able to get places at uni due to the crisis to receive deferred entry with an unconditional offer for next year.
“And we want a system that would help students affected to receive some form of benefits, and help with job support.”
Glen said he is “one of the lucky ones” because his teachers contacted his chosen university to protect his place there. But he joined protests to unite with other students.
“We’ve got to remember that we’re not just fighting for us anymore,” he said. “We’re fighting for the year 10s and the year 12s.
“In a year’s time there will be more students getting their results, and we need a better system. The only way to get that is to protest.”