Common sense has prevailed over A level and GCSE results; it is not easy for politicians to climb down but they have been right to do so. There is no absolutely fair and just way to award grades for examinations that never took place, or to assess performances that never happened in a game where the goalposts were moved in an unforeseeable way mid-course (forgive the mixed metaphor). There will still be some candidates who feel that they have been short-changed by the outcomes; they intended to put in a major revision push before the exams and never had the chance, for example. However, the key reason I believe Gavin Williamson has eventually arrived at the right conclusion is that the outcome errs on the side of generosity towards young people who have already experienced a raw deal in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A level results day last week was a challenge for which it was hard to prepare; at Dean Close we had our share of triumphs as well as the anxiety, confusion and heartbreak suffered by those leavers who not only did not achieve the grades they had expected, but found it hard to understand why. As we battled to understand the processes ourselves and to advise and support them, we could comfort ourselves with the thought that there was much public empathy for their plight.
Media stories empathised with the year group who, through no fault of their own, had been denied the chance to show their true paces in the examination hall, after an already frustrating summer in which they had been robbed of many of the rites of passage associated with leaving school.
It was disappointing, then, to see a shift in the public discourse onto familiar, well-trodden lines, once it became clear that, thanks to greater emphasis on the teacher assessments in minority subjects such as Music and Latin, primarily taught in our schools, A and A* grades had gone up more sharply in independent than in state schools.
The detail is complex and requires sophisticated understanding of the nuances of the algorithm applied by the boards to the grades supplied by schools in order to arrive at the grades they have awarded. Most commentary is not sophisticated, though; it jumps on the bandwagon of berating independent schools for existing, and its message to our pupils is this: not only did many of you receive grades that were lower than you expected and deserved, but you should also feel guilty for the unfair advantage you have received by attending independent schools.
The solution here is for government, exam boards, schools and society at large to be gracious and supportive to all our school leavers, and for the playing field to be levelled up rather than down for these young people who need a following wind and public support as they set out for their futures.
In education, as in economics, it is appropriate to be generous in a crisis; the time for a return to anti-inflationary disciplines will come again, but for now let the class of 2020 know that they have our backing for their futures.