I’ve been biting my fingers (tongue) to stop myself saying anything about this. But can’t do it any more so here goes…
There has been much outrage about last weeks A-level results. There have been lots of stories about how unfair it is that an algorithm has done this to young people. There are lots of heart breaking stories and I’m not wanting to minimise any of these. The effect on young people’s lives and mental health could and probably will be severe. But I wonder if we’re missing out on the bigger thing that these results are exposing.
They expose the deeper underlying inequalities of life in Britain. Inequalities that so many of us know exist but which we ignore so that we can live life as if they don’t. These results have not been fair but they have been particularly unfair if you are at an historically poor performing school or a school in special measures or in an area of deprivation. Because previous performance of the school has been taken into account. If you are an exceptional student in a below average school the schools previous performance has drastically influenced your grades.
What the algorithm at its most basic says is; if you are from there you can’t do any better than this. You can’t break free. You can’t get out. You can’t do that well or be that bright. That is tragic, that ought to make us angry at the injustice. But actually it is only putting into numbers and formulas what society already does and says. Inequality is real in the UK and what is desperately sad is that so many of us give it so little thought, content in our middle class bubbles of good schools and high achieving family, naïvely assuming everyone has equality of opportunity and support.
We live in unusual times and the unusual way of producing these results is having a tragic impact on young people up and down the country. But let’s not miss this opportunity. I hope that they come up with some way of resolving the issues, no way will be perfect and every possibly solution with prejudice someone, be it this years, last years, or next years pupils.
But I have a bigger hope and that is that we see the greater tragedy behind the story. This is normal life, not a once in a lifetime aberration, for so many in Britain. For so many young people the playing field is not level, it is a hard to climb slope they have to slog up as they battle the disadvantages of low income, poor schools, limited opportunities, and lack of access to resources.
My fear with this current outcry is that the vocal majority will go silent once their needs are met. That instead of pushing for justice for all we will simply go silent when we’ve achieve just-us, when we’ve got what we want for us and ours.
In Isaiah 42 we see that the Messiah comes to proclaim justice. That he will bring about justice for all nations. Not just what is legally right but a world without injustice and inequality. That is his kingdom, we will never bring it about perfectly until Jesus returns, but as those who claim to bow the knee to such a king neither should we stop trying to bring about as much justice as we can. My prayer is that the church sees the permanent reality of inequality that this current situation highlights, and acts. Prays, writes, campaigns, volunteers in tough schools, contacts organisations like TLG to see how it can help, provides mentors for pupils. Maybe even partners with churches in such areas so they can provide support through the links they have.
The gospel is the only hope for lasting justice. But the church ought to be a mobilised force for justice wherever it can. This may just be a huge opportunity for us to live out the gospel values of the kingdom where we are. But only if we think bigger than just-us.