A-level shambles: Why did our poor children even bother to study, asks KATE ANDREWS

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University offers have been rescinded from applicants, based on grades from exams they never sat. At best, many students will be forced onto a gap year – eventually able to sit their exams, but far too late to head to university. One hesitates to imagine the worst-case scenarios: young people’s futured derailed completely from the track they were on.

But what about the deeper impact of this experience? Has the downgrading of students’ marks in the absence of an exam inadvertently been a lesson in itself – one that could shape them for the rest of their lives?

For many students, achieving their marks is a formative experience – one of the first steps they take stepping into young adulthood. Revising and sitting the exams requires discipline and hard work; while there are many factors that can impact one’s marks, students learn how their actions determine the results.

Not this year. Generation Covid have been instructed that their individual efforts actually mean very little.

It seems a locked down society doesn’t value meritocracy: now it’s about the school you went to, not what you did or proved while you were there. “They prioritised the collective over the individual”, says Samantha Smith, an A-level student who was downgraded in her results on Thursday.

“We were just treated like a box-ticking exercise. I’ve been put into a tiny box: the student who isn’t meant to succeed, who isn’t meant to do well.”

Samantha became homeless aged 16 and saw her exam marks as her opportunity to beat the odds. In this sense, her story is truly unique – most students will not have faced that kind of difficulty so early on in their lives.

Yet in a way, she is representative of her entire year group: an individual with a story, different from everyone else’s, deserving of an opportunity to prove her capabilities.

There will be serious repercussions if this year group are left thinking that hard work and personal responsibility don’t pay off.

If a state-designed algorithm can be implemented at the eleventh hour to dictate your future, what’s the point in trying?

At the beginning of lockdown, the government crafted the furlough scheme for Britain’s workers in a matter of days – and found a way, albeit temporarily, to pay for it.

This year’s A-level and GCSE students deserved solutions of the same calibre.

They are the future, not an after-thought. What they do – and what they believe – for the rest of their lives hangs in the balance.

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