Sunday, 16th August, 2020

[Day 153]

Today was always going to be one of those days in which it could not decide whether to rain or not to rain. As it happened, Meg and I walked down to the park in practically cloudy conditions and the park rewarded us by being practically deserted. The rain in the night had well and truly wet all of the park benches which was designed to discourage any casually sitting down. But being well prepared like a Boy Scout (the motto of the scouting movement was ‘Be Prepared!‘), I had with me one of these absorbent sponge clothes which did a great job of removing the excess water before we could take advantage of the park bench. On our way home, we met some of our friends who we had not met for a few days and exchanged some news about their grandson who had been expecting the results of his ‘A’-levels. It turned out that he had been caught up in this ‘A’-level debacle in which in the absence of exams the teacher assessments which are always assumed to be overly optimistic were moderated downwards by an algorithm which meant that 40% students received a lower grade than their teacher assessments and this had severe implication for the universities that they wished to attend. In the case of our friend’s grandson, he was intending to appeal and his first choice university did not reject him but said he would have to wait for the results of his appeal (which might be too late) So he got onto his second choice university who spent a lot of time with him on the phone and armed with all the information that they had about him and effectively a 2-hour telephone interview, he was accepted by them. He was delighted with this offer as his second choice university is of the same general standing in the rankings so things seem to have turned out for the best.

I heard all of this well explained by, I think, a sixth form principal who was interviewed in the media to help to explain what had gone wrong. The explanation seemed plausible and simple. Basically, so she explained, the small colleges (typically found in the public schools) and those new colleges without a track record were excluded from the algorithm – and hence the teacher assessments were accepted. If this were to be universally the case (as in Scotland) then the distribution of ‘A’-level grades would be deemed ‘too high’ and therefore the credibility might be put at risk. So the other colleges in the system (particularly larger sixth form colleges, some FE colleges offering ‘A’-levels and those with a poorer track record for whatever reason) had to bear the brunt of the statistical re-calculation, losing out badly in the process. {Apparently, the Royal Statistical Society had offered the assistance of some prestige members to give expert advice, but this was rejected as the experts in question refused to sign ‘non-disclosure’ agreements that would have meant that they had to keep silent for some five years!) What I suspect the government has failed to appreciate on a purely political level is that not only are the young people themselves affected but also their friends, parents, grandparents, other relatives – all of which is a sizeable part of the electorate. Will a screeching ‘U’-turn be forthcoming? I think not.

Our plans to visit Meg’s cousin who is now resident since her bereavement in Bolton have been put in a certain amount of doubt. We got an email this morning from her daughter who explained that as Bolton is part of the Greater Manchester lockdown area then no such visit will be possible (apart from people already within the bubble). To see what the current ‘lockdown’ rules are in Manchester I did a quick Google search and was horrified to see some video clip of Wilmslow Road, Rusholme in Manchester (which is where we lived in our final year at University) only to see enormous crowds of people (celebrating, I think, Pakistan’s National Day’) but the police had been putting out urgent messages to the younger sections of the population, flagrantly breaching the social distancing regulations and putting the health of themselves, their families and the wider community at risk. No wonder that the infection rate seems to be increasing in certain clusters.