Glenn Hoddle managed the England men’s football team between 1996-1999, taking over shortly after the side had famously lost to Germany in the semi-final of the European Championships, in a penalty shoot-out.
In the lead-up to the 1998 World Cup finals, Hoddle was reported to have suggested that penalty kicks are a lottery which one cannot prepare for. It is impossible, he was reported to have said, to replicate the pressure of taking a penalty kick in a semi-final shoot-out, in practice.
England went on to lose in the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup to Argentina – in a penalty shoot-out.
Exams return this year, much to the delight of many who regard them as the fairest and most sensible form of assessment. They are, without doubt, the most efficient form of assessment and despite two years of exam cancellations, schools will all know what to do when managing the examination conveyor belt.
“Lamenting the context and resigning ourselves to fate or fortune is simply not acceptable.”
Of course, this all ignores a few very important points, pertinent to candidates and centres in 2022, all of which require clear and detailed responses and all of which are questions heads and school leaders are constantly being asked:
- If a candidate has Covid, will they be allowed to sit their exam?
- If a candidate is unwell with Covid, what will happen to their qualification?
- Will school workers be obliged to invigilate in examination halls where candidates may have Covid?
- How will exams be graded, given the high rate of teacher and learner absence throughout the academic year?
These are just a flavour of the questions we are still wrestling with. And beyond that, we have to consider the broader context: students, whose learning and development has been significantly disrupted for over two years and who have never sat a formal exam, are being prepared to take full exams despite the disruption.
This means that teachers will have found it virtually impossible to cover all of the curriculum content let alone develop the skills required to perform to full potential.
What has any of this got to do with Glenn Hoddle and England’s abysmal record in penalty shoot-outs? Benjamin Franklin’s oft recited aphorism, that failure to prepare is preparation to fail, has pretty much become my mantra for the third decade of the 21st Century. And so it is with exams. Waiting for answers for the above questions; lamenting the context and resigning ourselves to fate or fortune is simply not acceptable. We have to take control and prepare.
“Ultimately it is the student who has to take the penalty kick.”
At Cardiff Sixth Form College we have spent hours considering various permutations for the configuration of the college to accommodate exams throughout Covid. We have retained regular testing and other control measures to safeguard our community and will continue to do so, as is our duty.
Therefore, working out how to manage examinations in this context requires careful thought and preparation, with the flexibility to adjust those plans as required. We want all of our students to succeed and our teachers give enough to that cause without being expected to put themselves at further risk when supervising examinations. Our preparations consider how we will adjust to changing guidance, changing circumstances and significant disruption. We are used to it, after all.
Yet ultimately it is the student who has to take the penalty kick. We may be able to control the context to the best of our ability, but the pressure on them to deliver on the day, is immense. Therefore, we practise. A lot. More so this year than ever before. Four times, in fact, students at Cardiff Sixth Form College have undergone a formal, in-school assessment process under examination conditions, this academic year.
“Our last series of ‘mock’ exams was just before Easter – perilously close to the real thing.”
They have never sat a public examination in their lives but they are well-rehearsed in the art of performing under examination conditions (complete with Covid safety-measures) with all that that entails. Our last series of “mock” exams was just before Easter – perilously close to the real thing and indeed pushing the ability of teachers to complete course content to wire, but vital, nonetheless. We have prepared, they have practised; we have adapted to the context, they have adapted to the feedback of their teachers.
Students taking their A-levels this year have only known sixth form life in a pandemic. None of the disruption, changing guidance or uncertainty over assessment processes is their fault. Nor is it their fault that qualifications (or rather, the number of students achieving the top grades) have become so politicised and an absolute media obsession.
As the players on the pitch, they now have to step up and take the vital penalty kick. As the coaches, we have to do everything to prepare them for that challenge. Amidst the most complicated circumstances school leaders have experienced, it really is that simple.