The 93 Club: Class and higher education
Levi Mitchell, a fourth-year History student and Secretary for the 93 Club, discusses social mobility and how the 93 Club represents state-educated and working class students at the University.
In giving out exam results across the UK, both the SQA and Ofqual opted to reinforce a system of class discrimination and elevated the results of only the wealthy. This was done through their decision to factor in a school’s previous exam results into an individual’s results: undermining the opinions of teachers. In doing so, both organisations sent a clear message to teenagers across Britain that they will be forever defined, against their will, by where they come from.
As a result of Covid-19, exams had to be cancelled across the UK, leaving high school seniors out in the lurch with no clear answers about their fate. It felt unclear what impact previous coursework or prelims would have on people’s results: for many of us in Scotland, we remarked how prelims weren’t taken particularly seriously, myself having completely tanked my history prelim only to go on to study the subject at university. I know if I had been in the same position as my sister, still in high school, I would not have been able to go on to university.
It was shown that in Scotland, the “poorest pupils higher pass rate reduced by 15.2% between teacher estimate and statistical moderation, whilst the richest pupils rate reduced by just 6.9%”.
Before the u-turn on the policy, teachers were asked to give their predicted grades for each student, which would no doubt have had a negative impact on students who aren’t able to make it into school each day due to their health, or for students who might be impacted by negative biases a teacher might hold around race, sexuality, or socioeconomic background. These predicted grades were then taken and moderated by SQA and Ofqual so as to make sure the grades weren’t being heavily adjusted upwards. This is already a demonstration of a lack of sympathy for the students who have had their school years massively disrupted.
Concerns were voiced early into this process, with numerous people fearing the situation would turn into a postcode lottery: if teachers’ results were being judged against a school’s past performance then surely private schools and the state schools in affluent areas would see the most benefit from that. These concerns were found to be true. It was shown that in Scotland, the “poorest pupils higher pass rate reduced by 15.2% between teacher estimate and statistical moderation, whilst the richest pupils rate reduced by just 6.9%”. Similarly, the rest of the UK was seen to have suffered in the same way. Students in underfunded state schools were penalised for things beyond their control. They were punished based on where they were from.
It is important to note, that whilst it is completely devastating the number of talented people who have missed out on their offers to such prestigious institutions as Oxbridge or indeed Edinburgh, it is equally, if not more devastating for those whose results would have acted as gateways – to colleges, or directly into careers. They have been equally robbed of their futures and opportunities, in a demonstration of how deeply ingrained classism is in our society. They have been told directly, by those in control of their exam results and of their futures, that they cannot write their own futures but are rather controlled by their background and other people’s perceptions of that background. It is also worth noting, amongst the din of various obtuse celebrities chiming in to point out how poorly they did in school but how well they’ve succeeded in life, that firstly, these students were not even able to sit exams. Those celebrities failed on their own, students in 2020 didn’t even have a chance to try the exams. Secondly, when you come from disadvantaged, or indeed state schools without wider recognition, your grades are what you clutch on to. They can be what remind you of your deservedness, of why you belong at university just as much as the privately educated who seem to outnumber you.
Ultimately, this was a clear demonstration of how far the UK has to go in breaking down barriers to social mobility and supporting those from all backgrounds in whatever dreams they may have. It is shameful how easily the government and exam boards turned to this clearly fraught system, showing little care or interest for the lives of state-educated children. It also proved to us at Edinburgh’s 93% Club how truly necessary our society is. There are numerous 93% Clubs around the UK, the first being set up in Bristol in 2016, named so because of the percentage of the UK who have been state educated. All of us have been joined together by feelings of frustration towards the treatment of state-schooled and working class people in the UK today, some of us more personally affected and others intent on lending a helping hand.
Edinburgh’s 93% Club is new to the scene, but much needed; the numbers of students from state school backgrounds at a third of Russell Group universities has fallen in the past year, with Edinburgh amongst the worst. Here, only 65.7% of the student population is state educated, despite only roughly 6% of the UK population being privately educated. Our hopes are to offer practical advice that truly benefits state-educated and working class students by being tailored specifically to their needs, whilst also challenging the university itself and the attitudes on campus. We hope to help people at the university feel less alone in their struggles and create our own network of people working towards better social mobility who can share their stories with one another. We also hope that through continued campaigning, we will make a positive impact on the university; whilst they may have reconsidered applications after the exam results were reverted, there is still a significant amount of work to be done in dismantling the elitism that affects us all.