The examination round of 2021 has been like no other. In common with almost of the British curriculum schools around the world, we had a year of preparing our students for Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs).
However, one of the things that made it more challenging for international schools in places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia was that, after CAIE’s refusal to move to TAGs in those jurisdictions, our students still had to sit some traditional-style examinations. We were, in effect, punished for having relatively low levels of Covid-19 because our governments did not serve a notice to cancel public examinations.
This hybrid model of TAGs for Pearson and AQA subjects and exams for CAIE brought home the differences in the two systems.
“We were, in effect, punished for having relatively low levels of Covid-19 because our governments did not serve a notice to cancel public examinations.”
TAGs gave students the opportunity to show themselves in their best possible light: schools were charged with looking for evidence of ability. In practice, for motivated students, this meant that TAGs became the “best possible outcome” — it showed the maximum potential of a student on a good day when all the right questions came up. There was no “bad day in the exam hall” for TAG students and that is why grades have leapt in the way that they did. For this reason alone, it is wrong to compare the GCSE and A-level results of 2021 with previous years.
In this context, it seems unfair that CAIE students in some countries had to sit examinations. You just can’t compare their performances with their Pearson and AQA counterparts — although that is precisely what universities and employers will do.
Fortunately, the Kellett Class of 2021 was the school’s strongest ever cohort (90% of the students were CEM Band A and B) and the students, once again, achieved some of the best A-level results of any international school in the world (A* 55%; A*A 81%).
“You just can’t compare the performance of CAIE students with their Pearson and AQA counterparts.”
More importantly, they all have won places at top universities — be that in the UK, the US or other great institutions around the world. The statistic that illustrates the school’s greatest success this year is undoubtedly that 61 out of 62 of students who applied to the UK secured places at their first-choice university.
We had a similar story at GCSE where our students sat examinations in eight of the 25 GCSE subjects available (A* 68%; A*A 87%).
I would like to pay tribute to all the hard of work of the students, staff and senior team who made these results possible.
One of the things that the pandemic has brought home is the difference between those schools which are well-resourced and have a high degree of freedom over how to deliver the curriculum, and those which don’t.
Every student and teacher at Kellett has access to up-to-date equipment, high-speed internet bandwidth, and a range of high-quality resources. Furthermore, we were able to move to “live lessons” delivered by teachers from their homes during extended periods of home learning.
“There is rightly a debate about whether GCSE exams at 16 continue to serve any meaningful purpose.”
Sadly, this was not the case for many students around the world. Covid-19 had a significant impact on those who did not have the technology or internet access home to access learning, let alone live lessons. In this context, once again, comparisons become meaningless.
Looking ahead as the world opens up, the time has come to revisit two very important debates in education.
First, we need to decide what is the purpose of examinations in our system. There is rightly a debate about whether GCSE exams at 16 continue to serve any meaningful purpose.
Secondly, we need to revisit the place of technology in education, distilling out the many positives that have come out of home-learning, and combining those with the best of traditional face-to-face teaching.
Most importantly, governments around the world need to close the gap and give students access to the technology and connectivity that will allow them to access learning.