The Downside of Grade Inflation

This time last year algorithms nearly destroyed the hopes and dreams of young people across the UK. Exams were cancelled due to the pandemic and teachers in England were asked to provide an estimated grade for GCSE and A level students along with a ranking for students with the same grade. The grades and rankings were then put through an algorithm that took into account the school’s performance in previous years; a similar approach was taken in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It was believed that this would be a more accurate method of awarding grades than basing them purely on teachers’ predictions and would avoid grade inflation. Rather than inflating grades the algorithm had a downgrading effect with 36% of students in England receiving lower grades than predicted (3% received an astonishing 2 grades lower). Similar results were seen across the UK. This disproportionately affected state schools where high achievers in poor performing schools were downgraded through no fault of their own. Eventually the government were forced to back track and accept teachers’ predicted grades which then resulted in grade inflation.

This year, in a bid to avoid the chaos of last year’s results day, grades were automatically awarded on teachers’ assessments. The result, of course, has been grade inflation. Although seemingly preferable to downgrading, there are many reasons why grade inflation is problematic, not least because it could cause the achievements of the young people who have worked hard through such a challenging year to be devalued. It will certainly cause problems for universities which will be oversubscribed but could also cause issues for job seekers. 

For job seekers in the early years of their careers and with little work experience, employers will be looking at their academic performance. Young people who came away with seemingly good A level results a couple of years ago will soon be outshone by an influx of A and A* achievers to the job market. This opens up a conversation around what criteria, other than academic achievement, employers should be setting when recruiting. Criteria will vary depending on the role and the organisation itself but employers will certainly have to think carefully when assessing candidates over the next few years.