Centre for Progressive Policy
Is the algorithm working for us?
The Centre for Progressive Policy talked to the former Chair of Ofqual, Roger Taylor, about what really happened during last year's exam debacle and what lessons we might draw on the future of algorithms, qualifications and fairness in education. Roger shared his thoughts publicly for the first time since stepping down from the regulator.
In 2020 Covid closed 90 per cent of the world's schools. In the long list of harm caused by the pandemic, the disruption to the education of a generation may prove to be long lasting. One acute aspect of this was the difficulties countries faced in administering examinations. The UK and Ireland chose the unusual route of using co teacher assessments and predictions to estimate likely results. There was widespread agreement about the viability, even desirability, of the policy amongst education leaders before the event; and wholesale rejection by the people affected by it. There is much to learn from this.
The episode has highlighted the tension between meritocracy and examinations. The Algorithm was rejected because it was intolerable that young people would have their futures determined by a prediction based on things such as which school they went to. Some were troubled by the extent to which some students would have done better than predicted. But others were equally troubled by the degree to which a child’s circumstances could account for how they would perform in exams. This year exams won’t be held because it would be unfair when children have had such different levels of access to education. But that leaves open the question of why they are fair in normal times, when pupils experience very different levels of educational support and the educational set backs that many children have suffered over the course of the pandemic will continue to affect them for years ahead.
These events undermine public trust in the fairness of exams. Many employers have similar concerns, some of whom are turning away from exam grades as an indicator of employability and are instead using their own assessments which they claim give them a better understanding of their candidates and support more diverse hiring. In the past, the temptation for politicians has been to try to diffuse these tensions by degrading the quality of educational assessment, allowing grades to inflate or adopting untrustworthy forms of assessment. Rather than allowing this to happen, we need an approach that improves and expands the range of information that young people can use to demonstrate their skills.
In this event, the former chair of Ofqual, Roger Taylor talked about fairness and quality in education and how the current system needs to change. Former Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield OBE and Chief Executive of the REC, Neil Carberry responded to the comments. The event was chaired by CPP's director Charlotte Alldritt.
Key questions included: How can we create an education and assessment system that operates as a driver of social mobility? Or do we have unfair expectations about the degree to which education can tackle wider social and economic inequalities? How can the Department for Education ensure learning and assessment enhance children’s opportunities and bridge young people’s skills and potential with employers? In what ways can employers be further involved in these policies and in practice? How can we align the needs of measuring what a young person can do and assessing their potential whilst ensuring education standards? What is the role of data and digital technology in ensuring that robust assessment complements a meritocratic education system?
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