“When you are young, they assume you know nothing”

Why the Government have ignored young people at their peril this results season in the UK

Taylor Swift may just have nailed it with this recent lyric. The theme tune for the most chaotic results season no one could have every predicted perhaps?  The Government may have ignored young people at their peril and perhaps more specifically they’ve used an algorithm proved to have bias in favour of those from privileged backgrounds.

The trouble with not respecting a youth audience and instead seeing it as a group that needs to be told what to do, that exam results don’t mean everything or that they’ll be “ok in the end” is that it totally forgets that young people not only have a valid voice now, but that they are the leaders, the voters, the future of our country and they’re already getting a pretty shocking deal.

The issue (in brief summary)

  • Exams couldn’t happen so teachers were asked to predict their students’ grades based on performance over the year, any mock results etc.
  • Last minute, the Government announced that Ofqual would standardise results using an algorithm. The trouble was that this proved to be only 60% accurate and it massively disadvantaged those in deprived areas and benefited those in private education, namely because it was partly designed around subject pupil numbers.  
  • Results day on Thursday 13th, saw thousands of students bitterly disappointed and there were many examples of high achieving students getting significantly downgraded, losing out on university places (first and second offers) and forced into a clearing process.
  • On Saturday 15th, Ofqual released, then withdrew its guidance over the appeals process. Appeals initially were to be charged and unsurprisingly the announcement that students/schools wouldn’t have to pay to appeal over the weekend, wasn’t met with rapturous applause.
  • After students demonstrated and with ongoing criticism from many corners about how ineffective this solution was… a U turn on the decision was made on Monday 17th August that the original predicted grades would stand and that the same would stand for GCSE results which are out later this week.  
  • The limit placed on university places was also lifted by the Government – presumably as a move to ‘help’ them address what is nothing short of a logistical nightmare; it’s not as easy to just up numbers of places available, plus many students may now choose to go back to original places.
  • This was written Monday evening – the week is still young…

It has become increasingly apparent that young people are exponentially affected by the pandemic, from mental wellbeing and the growing education gap to things like employment opportunities – with graduate schemes being the first to go, placements being paused and high rates of youth unemployment.

Yet again, literally all these factors are worse for those from lower socioeconomic groups and unsurprisingly those from BIPOC communities.

A hugely stressful week for students could have been avoided. Many more students studying BTECs and other qualifications are still to be reassured that any predicted grades and outcomes will still stand.

But aside from the pure ineffective decision making, shoddy time line and last minute (and obsession with late in the day) updates, there is a lack of empathy with young people on what they are facing.

It’s insulting to brush off young people’s frustration over the current situation and like all other factors in engaging a youth audience it’s all about context and actually respecting and valuing them in the first place.

This has been, ultimately and after far too much of a delay and undue stress, the right decision for young people. But is it too little too late? And how will universities even begin to approach the logistical nightmare ahead whilst still maintaining the places they have already awarded, potentially to other very concerned students.

The coming weeks will now pose challenges to young people deciding on how to proceed with this major next step in their life, or whether to defer until next year – which of course impacts another cohort of young people and their life prospects.

Good luck with that campaign to garner a youth vote.

I’m currently working on a paper highlighting some of the research reports in relation to children and young people during the pandemic to help inform how we can better engage youth audiences over the coming months. If you have any data, articles or updates that you think would be useful, or if you’d like a copy once it’s ready, please email me at rebecca@threadandfable.com