Stopping independent schools being successful is the order of the day
Measures to make exams fairer seem reasonable, writes Nick Pietrek, but independent schools shouldn't be criticised for delivering a good education
There has been a great deal of uncertainty about next summer’s exams and every nation in the Union seems to be taking a different approach. It would be easy to say that there should be a uniform position taken on exams but clearly that is not going to happen. Scotland will do their thing, as will Wales, whilst Northern Ireland appears broadly in line with England. And it has to be reassuring that we do now have greater clarity on what England will be doing and it really doesn’t seem too preposterous.
In years to come, it may well be that GCSEs are viewed to have served their purpose but that is not imminent. Michael Gove’s reforms have not really been established for that long and it is well known that Nick Gibb is committed to GCSE exams, as is Gavin Williamson. Therefore, there may well have to be a change of government before there is a change to our current system. We could be looking at ten years before they are phased out.
Whilst everyone is talking about ensuring “a level playing field” for all children during the pandemic, the government has a fair point in saying that exams remove the bias that may favour the independent sector.
But we have undoubtedly fared better than the state sector in terms of continuity of education during the crisis and once again this is seen as an unfair advantage in the exams.
"The new package of measures seems as fair as it can be."
Clearly, whatever can be done to stop the independent sector being successful is the order of the day, even though it does so much to support the wider educational system.
The new package of measures announced by the Government seems to as fair and reasonable as it can be under the circumstances and other nations may now question if they have jumped the gun in taking the stance they have.
There is naturally frustration at the suggestion that grading will again be more generous than in years prior to the coronavirus and that will certainly have a short term impact on the value of the grades awarded.
However, it will be short-term and future employers will move past this. Indeed, paper qualifications arguably have less and less value as the years go by and that in itself raises serious questions about what a modern education should look like.
In the meantime, some of the key measures seem eminently sensible. Having formula sheets is surely just common sense and should be there anyway. Apart from when we compete in quizzes, when are we not going to simply be able to look up the formulas we need? The world has moved on and so must exams.
"Delaying the start of the exams is neither here nor there."
Advanced notice about some of the topic areas is surely not that big a deal. In years gone by, if you were a shrewd enough teacher, you could pretty much anticipate what was going to come up anyway so this just takes out the guesswork. The quality of the answers is ultimately what is most important and that will continue to be the real measure of a pupil’s ability.
The delay to the start of the exams is neither here nor there. At my school the pupils would have been ready come what may because we were able to carry on very effectively with teaching in virtual classrooms. If the delay gives schools that were unable to do this the chance to get through more of the curriculum, then good for them.
If I have one area of concern in all this, and I have said it before, I foresee problems with reducing the level of content that will be examined. Pupils starting A-levels next year will very likely have significant gaps in the knowledge they will need and the same will be true for those starting at university if they have only studied part of their A-level courses. That is where the impact will be most keenly felt and where this generation of youngsters will be most adversely affected.
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