Beyond’s Secret Teacher: The Exam Fiasco and the Class of 2021

The Exam Fiasco and the Class of 2021

Editor’s Note: Beyond aims to remain politically neutral. However, we acknowledge the importance of reflecting the voices of our teaching community where possible. Here one of our members expounds on the recent A Level and GCSE updates.

As the next academic year looms, the current conversation remains squarely fixed on the exam fiasco / grading u-turn (which it absolutely is…) by Gavin Williamson. The education minister offered a steadfast promise that the system works and as a result, there will be no u-turn. Fast-forward through the weekend as legions of irate A Level students took to the streets with catchy slogans and colourful language to express their indignation towards an algorithm, some bad national press and pressure from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. 

In a miraculous change of heart (…don’t call it a u-turn!) that even Scrooge would find himself envious of, not only had the education secretary decided that he’d got it wrong on A Level results, but that voice inside his head was so loud that he truly believed that this change should apply to GCSE results too. 

While the shift may be seen as the ‘fairest’ solution in a tough situation for GCSE students, it’s already too little, too late for many A Level students left in the dust of the often-ruthless university admissions process amid the exam fiasco. “Sorry, what’s that? Your new grade would have sufficed? Oh… Too late. Your place has already been given to someone else.”

The entire situation is a sorry mess. The exam fiasco damage is done at this point, but where does it leave teachers and the class of 2021?

What about this year?

When schools return in September, things are going to be different. Social distancing. One-way systems. Strange, difficult rules that are hard to follow and even harder to enforce. Teachers are facing an uphill battle from day one. The government are trusting teachers and school leaders with a matter of public health, and they’re trusting that we’re going to get it right

When it comes to other aspects of professionalism, however, teachers often find themselves asking some derivative of the following question: why is my professional judgement constantly called into question? It happens often enough with countless methods of scrutiny, let alone allowing an algorithm to trump centre-moderated grades.

If the government can trust schools to get the response to educating during a pandemic right, why can’t we be trusted with … well, the educational outcomes of our students?

At a disadvantage due to the exam fiasco, right out of the gate

This year’s Year 11 cohort face a particularly stark disadvantage when compared to their predecessors over the years: an entire term lost to COVID-19 and a government that will never want a repeat fiasco. That means, for better or worse, teachers and students this year are going to have to get back in the saddle and work even harder to jump through the hoops of the exam system. The question is, will the government make any allowances for these trying circumstances that won’t somehow overburden students and teachers?

Until we hear otherwise, in ironic fashion, that responsibility remains squarely at the feet of teachers everywhere.

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