At last, sensible commentary on the A-level results jamboree.

The way the commentariat has been shooting its mouth off about the A-level results challenge would make you think that nobody knows what an algorithm is. Well, most of them don’t. By the way, when I say the commentariat, I mean most commentators in the media. I also mean the perennially useless and self-interested teaching unions. Unfortunately, it was not just the commentariat who didn’t have a clue. Nor did the Department of Education or the Education Secretary. The Barnett Formula has been determining how much government money to allocate to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland relative to England for over four decades. The Barnett Formula is an algorithm. A cooking recipe is an algorithm, for goodness’ sake.

Algorithms are jolly good things. The danger is that, if designed imprecisely, they can give wrong answers as well as right answers. In this case, the broad thrust of the DoE’s algorithm was correct. It adjusted for the substantial grade inflation built into teachers’ predicted grades. But it was insufficiently precisely calibrated. So, certain types of pupil were unfairly penalised. The ignorant commentariat is thrilled with the ignorant government’s U-turn, but that will bring as many problems as it solves. A plague on both their houses.

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