The news that schools will be expected to provide grades for their students at A-level and GCSE will have been met with mixed emotions.
There is a real concern about the level of work required to ensure accurate results, but possible relief that students will not have to face examinations for which some have been ill-prepared.
Although independent schools have been exemplary, in many cases, at providing high quality lessons on a regular basis, all schools will have suffered increased absenteeism from shielding members of staff and those pupils and teachers who have fallen ill.
Highly professional staff are well-aware of the level at which their students are operating but we must be able to show tangible evidence for the grades which are awarded to the youngsters.
“Student wellbeing has been a major concern, so it is imperative that students feel that their grades are truly deserved.’
The reason for this is not simply to ensure that we could justify why a particular pupil has been awarded a particular grade. I think, especially for those in our independent schools, that it is the students themselves who need to know that the certificate highlighting their achievements is one they can be proud of.
I have been more than a little irritated in years gone by with successive commentators, with a variety of agendas, who have belittled the achievements of young people on results days in the summer.
Claims of a reduction in standards have been rife, with little apparent concern for the mental wellbeing of the students who have worked hard to fulfil the requirements and performed well in a high-stakes exam situation.
How do they feel, with a string of high grades, when someone says “yes, but the exams were harder in my day”? The wellbeing of students has been a major concern during lockdown, and so it is imperative that when the grades are awarded, the students feel that they have truly deserved.
This is being addressed by the awarding bodies who are providing materials that schools can use to consolidate their thoughts about the standards of their students. Exemplar materials and papers made up from past examination questions are being provided.
“Exemplar materials and commentaries will prove invaluable to relatively inexperienced teachers.”
Materials include real pupil responses taken from previous examination series, along with commentaries written by senior examiners as to why marks have and haven’t been awarded. These will prove invaluable to those relatively inexperienced teachers when marking papers in preparation for grading. And there is a plethora of other material which can be accessed if one knows where to look.
The diligent head of department will have, routinely, looked over the senior examiners’ reports as a matter of course when these have been published each year. These will still be on the website and can provide a real insight into both what level of responses are required but also where a number of misconceptions lie.
A good knowledge of the awarding bodies’ website is invaluable and it sometimes requires the cooperation of the examinations officer to ensure that all available resources can be accessed. Many subjects have “hubs” where information can be uploaded and where documents are stored which may relate to a breadth of specification-specific materials.
Some of these require passwords and access which can be allocated via the examinations office, presumably to ensure that only those paying their examination fees to a particular body can access them. There are many teachers who are totally unaware of the existence of such resources.
“It must be made clear to students that all these sources are being tapped.”
The message must be to use this information and make sure that less experienced teachers are fully aware of the breadth of support that is available. Some making judgements will be relatively inexperienced, so it must be made clear to students that all these sources are being tapped and that the grades awarded this summer are based on the best possible information.
They need to be reassured that they can be rightly proud of their achievements in the future when they will be judged alongside those who did gain their qualifications by three weeks of sitting in a sports hall, possibly having spent little time in preparation other than desperate cramming on the eve of the exam.