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GCSE Results Day 2020 – How was it for you?

Centre assessed grades, algorithms, downgrading, U-turns – several voices from across the profession reflect on a GCSE season and results day to remember...

  • GCSE Results Day 2020 – How was it for you?

“It’s not something I’d choose to do again”

The process of grading students for their GCSEs wasn’t something I thought would be too difficult. Who knows my students better than me, right?

It was, however, something I found surprisingly stressful. Due to a decision made by the school, I was unable to ask students for coursework after the nationwide partial schools closure which, of course, had an impact on the grades received by those students who hadn’t completed a final draft, or who had missed the deadline entirely.

Some students were absent for mock exams, so as a result, their mocks from early on in Year 10 had to be used to form part of their raw data – grades that clearly wouldn’t be representative of their knowledge and understanding now.

Regardless, I had to accept that I could only use the evidence available to me. Although I followed every step of the process in a professional manner, I honestly found that taking emotion out of the data was more difficult than I’d anticipated.

Of course, it’s easier in this respect for exam boards to mark exam scripts and moderate coursework. They only see the work itself, and not the student who spent hours working on it after school, or indeed the student who didn’t. I admit that I found it hard to put aside the knowledge I have of my students’ work ethic when ranking. 

I see the benefits of centre assessed grading, driven by teacher assessment. I’m very much of the belief that we know our students best, and that we certainly have the ability to grade fairly – but it’s not something I’d choose to do again, given the option.
– The author is a performing arts teacher based in Essex

“They deserved better”

Well, what an exams season that turned out to be. The high drama we bore witness to between the A Level and the GCSE results was nothing short of Shakespearean!

The disappointment and anger initially felt by many A level students would have struck fear into the hearts of GCSE teachers everywhere – but then, at the eleventh hour, a reprieve. We watched, startled, as the devolved regions submitted to public pressure and scrapped the now infamous algorithm. First to make the call was Northern Ireland, swiftly followed by Wales, with England bringing up the rear.

From this vantage point, I think it was an extremely brave decision by central government to reverse its A Levels and GCSE grading policy – but at the same time, one has to ask whether the inevitable public outcry could and should have been foreseen in the first place? This is, after all, what Johnson, Williamson, Gibb et al are ultimately paid to do – project the clear messaging and take the proactive action that’s central to any form of successful leadership.

Because for me, this government’s ultimate failing is the devastating emotional impact its actions have had on our blameless younger generation. Many were left feeling despondent and heartbroken. Our young people shouldn’t have had to suffer through that immediately after the trauma of a national lockdown. They deserved better. 

That being said, the students at our school, plus many in our local area, did incredibly well. As their teachers, we feel enormously proud of all their achievements. 

It’s been humbling to observe the resilience and humility of our Y11 students in the face of such extreme adversity, and an honour to witness their triumph in getting what they ultimately deserved and had worked so hard for. I hope that what they can take away from all this is that righteousness does prevail … eventually!
– Jayn Sadler is an English teacher

“A great sense of loss”

Our Y11 students would have normally sung ‘In Sanctitate et Doctrina’ with great gusto during the chorus of our school song during their Leader’s Mass in May. Our school motto, ‘In Holiness and Learning’, reflects our Catholic schools’ Mission to educate and grow the whole child. Now that the results issue has been resolved (with the least bad solution), we’re left to reflect on the other experiences and rites of passage that our students have missed. Many will hopefully rejoin us when they continue their journey through 6th form; some will not.

There has been a great sense of loss experienced by students, staff and the whole school community this year. We made a leavers video, but it wasn’t the same. Those final few months of school will see the end phase of our students’ formation as young men, ready to be sent out into the world. Exams are incredibly important, but we recognise that this part of the school year isn’t just about that. 

At the same time, it’s important to remember that these young men spent four and half years with us, and that a solid foundation was built. They were loved, cared for and valued by the school, and thus prepared for the challenges life presents. This year in particular, those challenges have been significant, but approached by many with positivity, hope and strong faith that a plan would emerge.

Results day was a strange one, but we all came together to ensure every single student was helped to the next step of their journey. We won’t allow the events of recent weeks to define them and their futures.
– Andy Lewis, Deputy Headteacher at St Bonaventure’s, East London

“Exam content for next summer must be further reduced”

Schools and colleges stepped up in challenging circumstances when exams were cancelled. They have worked tirelessly and professionally to submit grades for their students, based on all the evidence available to them, their experience and sound professional judgement. Teachers know their students better than any model or algorithm and it will be a relief to many that the grades they receive are now a fairer reflection of their achievements.

Serious questions remain as to what will happen next year and beyond. Government and Ofqual must learn from 2020 and start listening to the professionals, who have said very clearly that the plans for next year are not sufficient. With many months of learning lost for these students, exam content for next summer must be further reduced. Without this, the exams will become more a measure of how long individual students were in lockdown or whether they had access to learning at home as opposed to what they are capable of.

Had we already in place an assessment model for GCSEs and A-Levels which didn’t put all its eggs in the end of term exams basket, we wouldn’t have been in the mess we were this year. There are many ways to validly assess young people, yet in most subjects at GCSE we rely on these terminal exams to determine 100% of the grade.
– Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union

“There was nothing to fall back on”

These have been extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and this generation of young people has suffered a degree of uncertainty and disruption that is without precedent. They lost out on the normal rites of passage of leaving school, and on the chance to show what they could do in a set of exams.

If we’ve learned anything from this sorry saga, it is surely that our education system has become far too obsessed with statistics. In many ways, the debacle over standardisation is the logical conclusion – the idea that the entire grading system could be mirrored by the application of a statistical model. In truth, there is a statistical conundrum every year. We have fixed in aspic the distribution of grades, and every year we consign a proportion of young people to leaving school feeling that they have fallen short.

This year more students will receive higher grades because of the decision to revert to centre-assessed grades. But this is by accident rather than by design. In the longer term, we have to think again about our statistics-fixated system. We have to do better.

Another lesson for the longer term, is that we must surely reduce our reliance on a massive national bout of terminal exams each summer. There was nothing to fall back on in this crisis, unprecedented though it was, and the government still doesn’t have a contingency plan in the event of disruption next year. But it goes beyond that. In the digital age, we treat a system that is rooted in the 1950s as an article of faith. We simply must revolutionise assessment, utilise technology and provide a variety of assessment approaches.
– Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

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