The huge volume of work created by teacher assessed grades has been undeniable. I have no doubt that the hardest job in secondary schools this exam cycle was being a head of department, especially in core subjects.

Different exam boards, and even subjects within the same exam board, all did different things. Some decided that COVID had little impact on student learning and that therefore no content would need to be removed.

Others thought differently.

I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who lost sleep trying to work out exactly what was meant by the vague guidance, driven by the worry of ensuring that our young people wouldn’t be disadvantaged by a decision I made. However, we all made it out of the other end with most of our sanity intact.

Solo collections

Results days have been really weird these last couple of years. Like most schools, we have a traditional way of organising this very important event, and even without exams we’ve tried to maintain the feel of the day.

It felt much more like it should have done this year, because we were able to stand and chat with the young people and their families. Last year it all felt very distant, and far from the celebration it ought to have been.

We also had cameras from ITV in with us, as we thought that might help make the day feel exciting and build a lasting memory for our students. But what the TV crew noticed was really interesting.

The number of young people coming to collect results on their own this year was the highest I’d ever seen, and duly commented on by our TV guests.

I’ll admit that I was surprised, as our engagement with parents/carers is probably the strongest we’ve ever had – so why didn’t they come along? Did they trust us and simply not feel the need to? Do the results mean less without the exams? Were they still being COVID cautious?

The shared challenges of the last 18 months has led to increased communication between ourselves and our families, and in turn empowered many of them to get in touch more regularly about their child. This is something that I know has happened in lots of schools, and one of the positives that we hope to maintain.

Still, it would have been lovely to see more of them on results day – something for us to consider for next year!

‘Informal’ exams

Happily, it didn’t go unnoticed by the TV crew that when a young person arrived without a parent/carer, a member of staff tracked them from a distance to see if they stayed to open their envelope in school, and ensure they could have someone there to support them and celebrate with.

I think celebration has been conspicuously missing from many young people’s lives recently, along with a sense of achievement.

No matter how many times we told our students that they had earned their results, this messaging was frequently undermined by news and social media coverage posing questions along the lines of “Will these results always be seen as being of less worth than previous years?” – by the same media that often highlights the challenges around children’s mental health, I hasten to add!

The unspoken truth is that some young people in schools sat more ‘informal’ exams, because of the fear we all had of being told we didn’t have enough evidence than if the ‘formal’ exams still went ahead.

As we move back to an exam-based assessment system, it’s vital that we keep in mind that the next cohort of Y11s and Y13s have missed as much learning as those who received CAGs or TAGs. Whilst I’d personally welcome the return of examinations, I don’t think it’s as simple as our political leaders are currently suggesting.

I hope too that our teaching unions and other involved groups speak up loudly for them – those parents/ carers and staff who will lose sleep worrying about what next year might hold.

Vic Goddard is co-principal at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex – and author of The Best Job in the World (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99).