Take action on algorithms in education after exams 2020
Campaign MyRecordsMyRights / August 18, 2020
Are you concerned how exam grades were processed in 2020 or will be next year? Or about the use of algorithms and computer made predictions in education? Do you know what personal data is in your own or your child’s national school records from exams and standardised tests, and that the Department for Education gives it away for free to third parties?
We are calling for protections against algorithmic discrimination as part of an Education and Digital Rights Act. We need your help. You can start by writing to your MP today, to make change happen.
The exams process in 2020 is a mess. If you’re affected we can only say we’re sorry that our questions and advice to Ofqual and those of others were not acted on, and hope that your own position is sorted out the best it can be. We know candidates plans for the next steps in life have been thrown into chaos.
It has shown once again how harmful algorithms can be when they are unfair, discriminatory and affect young people for the rest of their lives. These risks are not new in the wider world, or the education sector. Some are not at this scale, or have affected the same people, but harm is routine.
In 2015 over 36,000 students were accused of cheating in English language tests and are still suffering the consequences of an automated system that analysis suggests was wrong 20% of the time.
Young people want to know their life chances will not be ‘f*cked by an algorithm‘.
The government must act to protect young people from significant harms.
Algorithms are used not only in exams standardisation this year, but every year, and in shaping children’s progress and in their learning every day. Computer led, data-driven-decisions are opaque and rarely explained. These include risk scoring, or profiling in tests and progress measures, or using edTech. They may be just as discriminatory as the exam standardisation process 2020, but many are commercial and are not open to scrutiny.
The Norwegian DPA has stepped in to support International Baccalaureate students this summer. In England, Foxglove Legal began effective action to protect candidates rights this time around. But civil society in the UK cannot play whack-a-mole every time this happens in individual situations. We need a systemic approach to understand what machine-led decision making is in use, and to better protect people in education.
The Education Act 1996 is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to the digital environment. Write to your MP and call for better protections and change. We first published our vision for the UK Education and Digital Rights Act during the General Election in 2019. Now we want action.
You can adapt a template text that is personal to you, and follow the five steps. Ask your friends and family to help.
We also set out how to make a Subject Access Request for asking the Department for Education what they hold on you, but which you can also adapt and use for your own purposes with the Exam Board or school too.
Take Action today.
After you got your grades and have accepted the result, what else can you do now?
Some candidates, but not yet all, have now been given a choice to accept their teacher assessed and submitted grade (the so-called Centre Assessed Grade or CAG) or accept the calculated grade that was produced after their personal data was run through the Ofqual standardisation process, if higher.
This isn’t advice on appeals, that full process hasn’t yet been made public. Your school is the first line of support, but perhaps you want more information than they have? If you want to better understand how your own position was reached in this year’s exam process, here are how two tools can help you access your rights to know who was involved and who might you get a better understanding from.
Do you want to know how personal information about you was processed, or who else holds it from your past exams and test results?
Subject Access Request
You can ask anyone that has processed your personal data, to see it, and to know how it was linked with other data or used, ask where else it was passed on to, and its main purpose is generally to correct any errors. There should be no surprises what has been done with it.
This is called making a Subject Access Request. You can only ask for data about you, or someone you have guardianship for. You should get a response within one calendar month.
This means for example when it comes to A-Levels and GCSE, you can ask the organisations involved that processed your individual data: the Exam Boards, and your exam centre (your school) to see it and better understand how it was used. In England and Wales, exams are typically processed through six exam boards so you need to know which one your Centre (school) used for each of your exams’ processing (even though you didn’t sit them this year, each Board did the work for the calculated grades that were standardised, separate from the grading that teachers did). You can ask what data was processed about you, and for a meaningful explanation of how.
Did you also know that all your results from all your exams and standardised test scores, from age 2-19 are sent to the Department for Education? You might also want to find out, in addition to your exam related data (A-levels, AS, GCSE, BTEC and other vocational exams), what the Department for Education holds about you in your national pupil record, and applies to anyone aged 37 or under who has sat such exams.
You can use the process we have posted on our Take Action page, to make a request of the Department for Education, or adapt the suggested text in Step 4 to make a request of any organisation that processes personal data about you. This is personal confidential data about you and you have rights around its use. #MyRecordsMyRights
Freedom of Information Requests
You can ask any organisation that is a public body for any information they hold, but this is not the right route to use for asking them about your own personal data. It is the route to understand how an organisation works or about processes and policy it was involved in, for example information about its decision making on the exam process and how the algorithm worked that used your data, but not for a copy of your personal data the algorithm used.
Although exam boards are the data controllers and processors, because they are not a public authority, they will refuse FOI requests but they must meet Subject Access Requests. Ofqual, the exam regulator, is a joint data controller because they determined how the processing would happen, they controlled the algorithm. They are also a public arms length body and subject to FOI. The Department for Education is also subject to FOI.
You can see examples of how other people write them and use a template form to help you, via WhatDoTheyKnow.com.
You can also contact us if you need help.