Another exam season is upon us but an exam season like no other. Still circumnavigating the challenges presented by Covid, we are faced with another issue: TAGs. So, are Teacher Assessed Grades what we hoped they would be or is the system we are facing this year even worse than the Summer 2020 “algorithm debacle” of Centre Assessed Grades?
Well, many of us agree that giving teachers the opportunity to award grades for Year 11 and Year 13 students is, indeed, better than applying an algorithm to the performance of young people. After all, teachers know their students and their abilities and they are aware of how impacted their students have been as a result of the pandemic.
However, the lack of swift, clear information about how these grades would be determined caused huge anxiety for both students and teachers across the country. Indeed, back in January, Eliza – one of my Year 11 students – noted the following and I am sure that her sentiments are felt by many students:
“As a Year 11 student, I wasn’t assuming the examination process was going to be easy, but I wasn’t expecting this level of confusion and uncertainty. At the start of this academic year, we were told the exams were taking place and my frustration and disappointment stem from the U-turn the government then took by cancelling them…
“The unanswered questions from the Department of Education leave a blurred trail through my mind. This was echoed when speaking to my fellow peers; we are all struggling hard with the lack of transparency throughout the process, despite our teachers’ efforts to reassure us without knowing definitively for themselves. This backtracking has put a strain on young people’s mental health…What value are our GCSEs going to have in the future? Are people just going to consider us the “Covid generation”?
I can see Eliza’s point and do worry that she, along with her peers, will feel that their hard work, resilience and sheer grit will still see them described as, in her words, the “Covid generation”. Nevertheless, since receiving the guidance on Teacher Assessed Grades, we have worked incredibly hard to ensure that the systems put in place at my school — as I am sure in schools across the country — are consistent, fair and objective. However, the consequences of such systems on staff are — just as they are for Eliza and students like her — far reaching.
“Our staff care about how their students perform and they do not want to do anything that is going to further disadvantage them.”
A Guardian article on May 9 reported teachers’ concerns over the guidance being too flexible, leaving too much room for interpretation and — therefore — leaving us not being able to guarantee consistency between schools. Staff report feeling that they are “second-guessing …We’re all marking through weekends and late at night. It’s the added stress of knowing how important it is to get the marking right.”
And this is because our staff care, very much, about how their students perform and they do not want to do anything that is going to further disadvantage them. It was also hugely disturbing to read an article reported in Wales Online on May 4 about teachers even cancelling Covid-19 jabs because of the “overwhelming extra work of assessments replacing traditional exams this term.”
And on May 21 the TES reported concerns about the risk of “heavy teacher workload” to come during the summer holidays, as a result of appeals. Many teachers talk about feeling like “unpaid examiners”. Indeed, Yvonne Williams reported in the TES on January 29 that “teachers have been stitched up by the plans for 2021 exams – working as unpaid examiners could tip them over the edge” and describes teachers as the potential scapegoat if there are consequences to this year’s TAG strategy.
“Refunds of £200 million in exam board fees could well help us all as we try to invest in our schools after the pandemic.”
Indeed, I support the collective of 2,000 heads across the country who have called for a refund of at least half the exam board fees usually charged for summer examinations. The refunds of £200 million could well help us all as we try to invest in our schools after the pandemic.
And perhaps the elephant in the room is Summer 2022. Will we receive prompt, thorough and timely guidance for our current Year 10 and Year 12 pupils who will be waiting, anxiously, for clarification on arrangements for their examinations? I do hope so — for their sake, and for the wellbeing of their teachers who continue to be unsung heroes.
I am not surprised, with all this considered, that there is a growing debate about the future of external examinations. I am always looking for the bright side; positivity is important for us all. Perhaps a debate on whether our current models are fit for purpose is exactly where we need to focus our attention after what I hope will not be a TAG debacle. Only time will tell.