We all love a good sporting analogy and in a summer which delivers us some of the greatest sporting events on the planet, we should remind ourselves of a wise coaching mantra which serves all sports – control what you can control.
So it is with another great summer event which, like those taking place in the sporting arena, will be very different this year. I speak, of course, about the publication of public exam results. Last year’s results days were complicated enough and the impact of the dreaded algorithm and subsequent U-turn does not need to be re-lived here.
Similarly, this year’s will also be a minefield for other reasons but it is one which we can navigate if we focus our mind on that which we can control and ignore the white noise. Before they are even published, we can see what line of attack the press will take and commentators will have much to say about results this year, and what they represent.
“The independent sector will continue to demonstrate leadership and vision in spite of click-bait headlines.”
All white noise – block it out. We can’t control it and we shall continue to attempt to influence policy through intellectually rigorous channels such as our membership of excellent organisations who work on our behalf. Needless to say, when the time comes to make some strong points about the nature of grading, we will. We will have something to say about the pressure it has put on all schools and colleges and the ongoing anxiety caused by the lack of clarity over how (and what) we will assess in 2022. The independent sector will continue to demonstrate leadership and vision in spite of click-bait headlines.
When the exam results are handed to students tomorrow, we shall be in a very different position to previous years as we are essentially already aware of what the grades are. The system of assessment this year meant that schools were required to assess and grade students, submitting those grades to exam boards once the assessment strategy had been approved. For various reasons, none of which are hard to comprehend, this is likely to result in improved results overall (otherwise unfairly known as “grade inflation”) if we compare this year’s results to previous years. This comparison is unwise, unnecessary and irrelevant, however, as it is comparing apples with pears. However, that is another thing we cannot control and should, therefore, block out.
What we can control is how we strategise for every single student under our care. Having been reminded, throughout the pandemic, that education is the “number one priority”, school leaders and teachers understand this truism and will put it into practice. If we consider the broad groups that students are likely to fall into, we can see how we shall strategise on their behalf and advise them, accordingly.
“What we can control is how we strategise for every single student under our care.”
The first group will represent, as in all years, the majority – that is those who have gained the exam results they need to move on to the next stage in their academic career. There is no strategy required here other than to celebrate, congratulate and thank everyone who has had an input into bringing about their success.
We shall, of course, continue to ensure that the decisions they are making are wise and in their best interest, and that is all individual detail which schools are best-placed to advise upon. We shall also assist those young people in blocking out the white noise about their grades and what they mean. They earned them; they deserve them and so we congratulate them.
There will also be students who achieve grades higher than they anticipated or than they required in order to move on to the next stage. They are sometimes referred to as “over-achievers”- an ugly and patronising moniker which we must avoid. The advice we offer to them and the strategies we suggest must be well thought-through.
With university places at a premium and thousands deferring to 2022 it is very important that the instinct to “twist” be contextualised against the reality of how complicated gaining a place in 2022 will be. It may not be the case for all students but opting to “stick” with a good offer for 2021 rather than roll the dice, could be the best option. Again, this depends on the individual and considerations such as this are what school leaders and careers advisers will be working on in the lead-up to results days.
“We must protect our colleagues and ensure that any criticism be absorbed by us, as leaders, and advise the student in their best interest.”
Finally, we come to those who have not achieved the grades they need. As ever, this is where the majority of our time and effort will be focused. This will also be an emotionally complicated situation for schools as many students and parents may focus their own emotions onto the fact that it is the school who “decided” these grades. We must protect our colleagues and ensure that any criticism be absorbed by us, as leaders, and advise the student in their best interest. Strategy, tailored to the needs of the individual, is the key and only a deep understanding of the student coupled with genuine care for them and their prospects can assist in helping them to move forwards.
The impact that this year’s results will have on the Higher Education sector is going to be extreme and, yet again, that is beyond our control as school leaders. Our role is to understand, strategise and advise. We are in a strong position to do that, this year, and whilst we are all able to write much longer pieces than this on the faults in the assessment system, how it should have been managed and how it must be managed next year, the time for that is not now.
What matters now is this generation of learners and what they do with the exam results that they have earned in astonishingly complex circumstances. We must control what we can control and block out the white noise, for the time-being.