Algorithms not to blame for exam results crisis, says IT body

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, has said it is disappointed that algorithms have again been blamed in general for last year’s exams results crisis.

The institute said that while the government’s decision cancel exams this summer is “understandable,” it did not agree that algorithms were solely responsible for mistakes made in determining exam results last year.

Instead BCS said that the real issue was “poor collaboration” between government departments, and warned that blaming an algorithm is “damaging” to future technological advancement in the UK.

“Last year an ill-conceived algorithm was used to award exam grades to students, which assumed each school’s results had to be effectively identical to the previous year. That caused a huge loss of public trust in the very idea of an algorithm being used to make judgments of any kind,” said head of policy at BCS, Dr Bill Mitchell OBE. “The real issue was poor communications and poor collaboration between government offices and departments because they were designed to be arm’s length, rather than closely integrated partners, resulting in an algorithm designed to do something woefully different to what politicians wanted."

He added: “It is damaging to our future as an advanced technological society to blame an algorithm when the true problem was a collective lack of technology governance, which can be fixed should we choose to.”

Mitchell said that it's important to organise the design and development governance for algorithms in public service, adding that the algorithm “only did what it was told to do.”

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