From education to employment

Ex head of Ofqual argues failure to learn lessons of 2020 algorithm ‘debacle’ risks unfairness for generations to come

Roger Taylor, the former head of Ofqual

Roger Taylor, ex-head of @Ofqual, has today (14 Jun) spoken for the first time since the exam results debacle of 2020. 

Ofqual’s algorithm was labelled racist and classist and prompted huge public backlash.

In a new report commissioned by the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP), Taylor explains that the algorithm was not biased, and it did what it was asked to do.

What it was asked to do was not fair. 

Reflecting on the debacle of 2020, Roger Taylor said:

“The failures of 2020 were not caused by the algorithm malfunctioning. The error was what we asked the algorithm to do. It was the human decision making that failed. Too little importance was put on the experience of the student and their justified expectations of what was fair, and too much weight was put on trying to allow the administration of education to carry on as normal.”

The public rhetoric blaming the algorithm suggests that the issue was out of human control, an arbitrary ‘computer says no’ response to people’s complex and nuanced realities. Taylor’s paper shows how algorithms and data are in fact delivering more nuanced recruitment decisions and supporting diverse recruitment into elite jobs.

Charlotte Alldritt, Director at the Centre for Progressive Policy, said:

“Qualifications play a crucial role in determining a child’s employment opportunities and earnings in later life, and too many children’s choices are limited by poor performance in exams, which our research has demonstrated is influenced by where they live and their family background.

“CPP is building on Roger Taylor’s reflections to better understand attainment gaps in this country, and how to address these, with the aim of developing an education system that enables all young people to thrive.”

Taylor notes that the growth of AI and algorithms in recruitment systems poses a challenge to the traditional role of qualifications; to incentivise high quality learning and enable social mobility.

It is Taylor’s view that the system needs to adapt in the face of the rise of data driven technologies in recruitment, and ensure they are fit to support the needs of citizens and employers in the coming age of AI.

The Centre for Progressive Policy is looking to build on Taylor’s lessons from 2020, supplemented by their own research into regional attainment gaps across the country, to deliver policy recommendations around how we can deliver a system that works for everyone.

The Centre for Progressive Policy is holding their first panel discussion on the education system on Monday 14th June.

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