Class of 2020: My Son Is More Than A Statistic By Lisa Mulholland

If algorithms are picking my sons GCSE grades, then he will surely fail.

This government have played games with our children’s education for too long.

They changed the exam grading system, made exams more linear and made the curriculum so much harder in the last four years.

It almost felt like they were deliberately trying to make things harder. Trying to squeeze our children into a ‘one size fits all’ exam system. The previous system allowed for more differentiation, because some courses were more coursework based and allowed for different skills to shine through. But they changed it and made it more restrictive.

Our children and teachers adapted though and found new ways to prepare children for exams. Jumping through smaller and smaller hoops…

My son, has been allowed to stick with some of the older curriculums for his GCSEs because he attends a specialist school. The teachers have already put in the work to make the case for children who need more differentiation. And luckily they were successful in that.

My son has autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, a severe visual impairment and generalised anxiety disorder. He attends a specialist school. On paper, or according to the algorithms, he’s not going to do well in his GCSEs. It was a battle to even think this day would come where he would be able to sit those GCSEs.

Statistically, only 16% of adults with autism are in full time employment. Statistically the odds are against him.

And yet his reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yes he has a ‘spiky profile’. He’s in the 99th centile for his English and Science, yet really struggles with his writing ability due to joint hypermobility that affects his hands. His educational psychologist called him ‘gifted’ but only with the support and tools he needs for his disability. And so those subjects where he struggles, he has now managed to get to a level that is acceptable for him.

This is a whistle stop statement of the last four years.

I cannot even begin to tell you the work that has been put in over the years.

However despite his many issues, his teachers who have taught him over the years have all said things like “he will be something amazing when he’s older”

“he has a brilliant mind and he has the type of brain that will change the world”…

Those are quite vain statements, however I only include them to demonstrate the disparity between what my son looks like on paper and what his reality actually is. This is to highlight the point that a statistic cannot tell you everything about someone. And this is why the Class of 2020 need to be seen as more than just an unfortunate cohort of statistics.

With support in exams; a room on his own, a laptop for extended writing pieces, my son actually performs exceptionally well in exams. He loves them! He thrives in tests.

He has big plans for his future and he always does what he sets out to do. He wants to be an architect. He plans to go to university in 2022. He has set out his pathway with back up arrangements if he doesn’t get the grades he needs .

Despite the odds stacked against him I truly believe he will be in the minority of his algorithm category, for want of a better word. I hope that will be in that 16% that will go on to have a full time job.

He’s completed some qualifications already, he’s done his functional skills exams and performed very well.

But this has only been achieved through years of struggle and overcoming many hurdles. His teachers and I have worked incredibly hard to build confidence. To help with panic attacks that just make him block out the world and not be able to concentrate. He’s been taught exam techniques, and ways in which to overcome his inattention due to his ADHD.

We had got it down to a fine art. His actual art and design work is the level of a grade 9, and his history and science are around about that of a level 7. Other subjects that he struggles with and has no interest in, were predicted around a 4. Amazing for him and what he needs to do every day just to be able to attend school, sit quietly in a classroom, let alone think, or concentrate.

But the A level travesty last week is not filling me with hope that he will get the grades he deserves. The algorithms have moderated the grades; not by teacher assessment but by background, area or type of school setting.

So what chance does an autistic child at a specialist school have?

The algorithms are against him. This government is taking this opportunity to once again compound inequality.

No student from Eton missed out on their predicted grade though!

The statistics won’t tell them how well an individual child has worked, what difficulties they’ve overcome, or what their dreams and hopes are. How many of them now have their hopes dashed?

I cannot speak for those children in depth because I don’t know them, but it doesn’t take a genuis to know that children can and do perform differently to how their class/ race/ gender/ disability statistically performs.

The statistics won’t tell them that my son is resilient.

But I can tell you that he is.

His teachers and I can tell you that four years ago we had been through two secondary mainstream schools. We’d been refused help from CAMHS until I’d written a letter that somehow went viral and I ended up on TV. We then finally received some support from CAMHS which changed his life for the better.

He eventually got into the school that met his needs and they have turned his life around; from an anxious boy who was school refusing; to the boy who skipped his lunch break to go into the classroom to work harder on his projects and coursework.

And everything in between. From sliding work to his hunched over self with his hands over his head. Every day his teacher would slide a piece of work under his face and walk away. Slowly but surely his head started to lift. Until eventually he would do the work. In the end he used to be so animated with his work that he would take over some of the lessons and be helping his other anxious counterparts.

Will they listen to his teachers that are incredibly skilled not just in the subjects they teach but in the emotional support they provide to the children at his school. And in the creative ways that they adjust the curriculum to meet the children’s needs? I’m sure his teachers aren’t the only ones. Teachers up and down the country work so hard getting to know their students and what they are capable of. So why not let them decide?

It is not like anyone is expecting a free for all, finger in the air type guessing game of what grades the children should get; they have to prove those children are capable of those grades…. they worked hard at this with not much notice and living through a pandemic themselves, so why aren’t they being listened to?

I can only hope that somehow my son will get the grades he deserves.

My story is just one out of millions. Each student has their own story. Unfortunately the ones with the biggest stories and ones who have jumped the highest hurdles are likely to be the ones who will be graded most unfairly.

Millions of other students on Thursday will be in the same position. Waiting for their fate to be decided with bated breath. Because they had the misfortune of being the class of 2020. Living through a pandemic isn’t enough stress for them, they now have to wait to see what grades are fished out according to background, and bloody algorithms !!!!

For most of those students, the stakes are higher than they are for my son. They are waiting to go to university, or the college of their dreams… at least my son is guaranteed a place at his sixth form and for that we are lucky but what about the others?

They have already missed out on so much, the rites of passages that comes with ending school. Saying goodbye to friends and teachers. Having the experience of sitting their exams.

Everything about this year has been rushed and clinical. The least the examining boards could do was actually follow the teacher assessments and allow the experts to decide?

One thing is for sure: us parents of the class of 2020 will not take this lying down.

If you would like to support us, here is a link to complain to the DfE

https://form.education.gov.uk/en/AchieveForms/?form_uri=sandbox-publish://AF-Process-f1453496-7d8a-463f-9f33-1da2ac47ed76/AF-Stage-1e64d4cc-25fb-499a-a8d7-74e98203ac00/definition.json&redirectlink=%2Fen&cancelRedirectLink=%2Fen

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