GCSE and A Level Exams – DfE consultation

The Government and DfE will be receiving many responses to their consultation – if you haven’t done so, do consider giving your own personal feedback. The survey takes about half an hour to complete; the essence of my responses is outlined below.

It should be said at the outset that there is no neat solution to the problem of GCSE and A level grades this year. Every solution will have a problem and so we are forced to consider what might be the least worst of the bad options. I have read the DfE proposals thoroughly and considered with interest the views of many educational commentators.

In seeking to navigate this challenge I am most concerned that the proposals lose sight of those most affected: the pupils.

In suggesting that teachers must not ‘decide the grade a student might have obtained had the pandemic not occurred’, there are only two alternatives – a final assessment, or assess what they know now.

Any final assessment will present as many problems as it solves (and create a huge layer of administration). The suggestion that teachers might be trained to mark these and then their marking marked, doesn’t make the system any fairer. It is of course in the main part teachers who mark GCSE and A level exams in a normal year. This proposed final assessment – maybe compulsory, maybe not, possibly released in advance, possibly not, is an exam by another name. That these grades might be presented early to allow for a wave of appeals in school will not calm the inevitable outrage.

Assessing what students know now would unduly penalise them (we know they make huge progress between January mocks and the real exams) and assessing them through GCSEs in the summer has already been ruled out….but iGCSEs are going ahead, resulting in further inequality between those who have prepared for GCSE & iGCSE. 

The layer of administration these proposals create aside, it does seem that the individuals forgotten in all this are the pupils themselves. We are seeking to assess this A level and GCSE cohort at the end of two-year courses, with more time having been spent out of school than in school. At the Dixie, we have continued with a full, live day of teaching, from Reception Class to Upper Sixth and our students are as well prepared as ever. The inequalities in provision and gulf in opportunities for access to remote learning for pupils in different schools is well documented. Very few students at the Dixie needed to self-isolate last term – and when they did, they simply rejoined lessons online. We were fortunate in comparison to many schools locally. 

There are only two fairest ways to proceed – hold all exams as normal or stop all formal assessment and use centre assessed grades as last year. Given that pupils have been told all exams are cancelled (this decision was taken far too early again this year, but let’s look forward, not back) – for once, we should put them first and let them progress to the next stage in their careers with centre assessed grades. There is time to scrutinise these grades, to visit schools and sample work where it is felt necessary. As last year, these grades will be higher than in a normal year (grades won’t take into account exam hall wobbles etc.), but the early processing and removal of all exams will allow us to run our innovative pre A-level and pre-University courses, which did so much to prepare students for their next stage (as well as help them realise the benefit of learning for learning’s sake).

This cohort of GCSE and A level students, more than any before them in my 30 years in teaching, deserve all the consideration we can muster.

Richard Lynn 18 January 2021

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