Conversations with Conservatives

Gillian, my MP, is used to me. This year, I’ve emailed her at least once a month. Sometimes, it’s once a week. I think I did three in so many days at one point.

She’s a Conservative MP. She does not get the best side of me, I’m afraid. She chose to be a representative for that party, and it’s the party that has displayed the most cheery ineptitude and blustering disregard for, like, human life?

So, she gets a slightly snarky tone from me. I’m not proud of it but it’s an outlet, and I think it’s more useful for me to rant at my MP than shout all the swear words I know as my husband tries to ignore me.

Yesterday’s subject: A-Levels. God, what the WHAT?

“Hi Gillian,

“Today, I’m appalled by young people having to deal with the devastating screw-up of their A-Level results, after a year full of disappointments. It should be a day of excitement, but when high-achieving kids in schools with poor academic records are downgraded by the average, we should all be ashamed of this failure. And private schools have had a great year for those top grades! How surprising. 

“This was always going to be biased against working-class and underprivileged communities. I work with an organisation called The Girls Network, which helps girls from those communities grow their confidence and access spaces usually closed to them. What does this approach to their education tell those girls? That, actually, the government doesn’t care that they’ve worked hard against the odds – but the kids who are already in those spaces get an extra leg up based on their school’s history. 

“I know academic results are never guaranteed but students not getting into ANY of their uni choices after being predicted the grades they needed? That’s horrendous. They were already looking at an uncertain future, with travelling cancelled, summer jobs cancelled and no firm idea of what university would look like in the autumn. Now, this. 

“I’m a university drop-out and proof that university isn’t the be-all and end-all of success, but at 18, you don’t know that. For a lot of teenagers today, this is the end of the world.

“While I understand that this was an incredibly challenging situation, I hope your government will be open to all and any ideas for solving the blatant error in judgment and will act with compassion for students who haven’t had the privilege of attending historically successful institutions. 

Regards, etc. etc.”

Hey, I know there’s an appeals process. But young people who should be looking towards the start of their career or continued education are now stuck in a maze of bureaucracy. Even that is biased; what government appeals process is going to be easily accessible for all students, regardless of their family support, ethnicity and life experience? Not to mention financial background: each grade requires a separate appeal and, depending on the area, will be paid for by the school or by the student. It’s hard to find out how much this sum is (go figure!) but ANY amount puts this process out of reach for some. For underfunded schools, there may simply be no way for them to undertake this process for all the students that want to appeal. Students who choose to take their exams next summer, although getting more time to study, will need somewhere to live and food to eat – which should have been taken care of by their student loan or financial aid. This is a burden that many families will struggle with.

Seeing teenagers like Mithushan Thiagarajah, who had an offer to read medicine at Cambridge with 4 A*s predicted, get downgraded and therefore rejected is heartbreaking. Universities overfill courses because, of course, not everyone will get their grades. So, with private schools performing better in this circus, more of Cambridge’s medicine course will have been taken up by – potentially less brilliant – privileged kids. Leaving no room for Cambridge to use discretion based on the interview process as there will be enough students who did get the required grades. Mithushan just has to suck it up, after TEACHING HIMSELF four A-Level courses for most of this year, and hopefully take his exams in the autumn or summer. By himself. Because he’ll have left college.

I’m angry. Can you tell I’m angry? Gillian just loves seeing my name pop up in her inbox.



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