An open letter for the working-class kids the Government has failed

14th August 2020

Yesterday, students across the UK received their algorithmic A-level results and, as a shock to absolutely no-one, high achieving kids living in poor areas had their grades stolen from them. In return, they were given an expectation of what someone from their background should achieve, while private schools had their grades boosted to befit their birthrights to a better life.

This morning, the WhatsApp I’m a part of consisting of working-class journalists across the UK and Ireland was filled with anger. But we’re always angry. Pick a day of the week and one of us will be annoyed at some continued classism pervasive in the smouldering embers of empire we call British society. Today though, we discussed heartbreak. We’re sympathetic to the poor sods who collected their Epsilon and Delta designations. Some have had university robbed from them while others will struggle to get jobs against peers with a few years age difference. This is unfair and pitiable.

But what really breaks our hearts is the fact we know what’s coming next. We know the brutal lessons in the next curriculum these kids have been forced into and the fucking relentless examination of your value based on your class.

Some of us in the group, myself included, got our A-levels and spent our university and post-university in the wake of the previous recession. Some of us got into university when the fees were one-third of what they are now. We’d been promised university would be the key to bettering ourselves – as though our resting state was detestable – but we stepped out into a world of austerity, where our hard work wouldn’t be rewarded, and we found ourselves with a Tory government hostile to our entire class.

You never stop fighting against it but, when you know the game is rigged, winning and losing isn’t about hard work. It’s about luck, and you know you’re more likely to roll a six if you keep rolling, even when the dice is loaded

But time goes on.

The bitterness becomes pragmatism. The chip on your shoulder, put there, by the way, by those who have no idea what your life is like but blame you for it all the same, justifiably remains but it becomes a tool. The years weather it, mould it and refine it. Turning it from shapeless anger into a focused tool, one you use to scrap and pick and hack at the hypocrisy of the ruling class.

Eventually, you come to terms with your situation. You never stop fighting against it but, when you know the game is rigged, winning and losing isn’t about hard work. It’s about luck, and you know you’re more likely to roll a six if you keep rolling, even when the dice is loaded. But, as our parents promised us, you believe that maybe things will be better for the next lot of kids. They know the pitfalls and the hurdles, and they can see the crooked system more clearly.

The added agony is that you want to help these kids and tell them it is going to be okay. But you know lying to them won’t help. It is not going to be okay

But when a year’s worth of kids have their hard work taken from them, you realise the system isn’t going to get better. You realise these kids are going to learn earlier than my generation that if you are working-class, there will always be an uphill struggle. They were robbed of a future while you lose your hope.

The added agony is that you want to help these kids and tell them it is going to be okay. But you know lying to them won’t help. It is not going to be okay.

All the while you see bragging from those who failed their A-levels yet offer support by pointing to their own brilliant situation as proof it doesn’t matter, entirely unaware that they landed in their inherited, nepotistic success using a parachute made from the recycled remains of the social safety net.

To those who thought they had a way out, who thought you were going to escape that shitty little town, with its small borders and boarded up streets, know this; you are not a failure.

You see all this and want to help. But what can you say? “Well kids, I passed my A-levels with good grades, went to a cheaper university than you ever will and worked through a milder recession with no pandemic to speak of and guess what, it’s still hard being working class.”

It’s trite to say A-levels don’t mean a thing if they are the only damn tool you’ve got to kick start the wrecked engine of social mobility.

So, our heart breaks for these kids and the truth.

To those who thought they had a way out, who thought you were going to escape that shitty little town, with its small borders and boarded up streets, know this; you are not a failure. This is just the first shitty lesson of many you are going to have. There will be more. A lot more. We’re sorry we can’t save you. We’ll give you what we can but your dreams will be always further away and your realities starker than those who are no better than you, they just have more money. This is the truth.

They want you to be malleable and quiet, to be seen but not heard, and to know your place

I don’t tell you this to hurt you. I promise you that. I tell you this to brace you. Your future will be hard. It won’t be given to you, it must be claimed. Keep fighting, keep learning, keep getting better. Don’t let this decide who you are. Demand your place at the table and carve out your future. It won’t be easy but every inch you conquer is yours by effort and determination, not by the lazy substitute of right. Be proud of that.

It will be tough but you will survive, if and only if you don’t give up. The bastards at the top of this plague pit, they are the ones who failed here, not you.  It was them who dictated that an algorithm, a fucking computer, had the right to decide your value, and they want you to give up. They want you to be malleable and quiet, to be seen but not heard, and to know your place.  Well fuck that and fuck them.

14th August 2020