I AM so relieved to be a retired headteacher not having to make sensitive Covid-related decisions which will inevitably offend someone.

We have all witnessed the total exam results shambles this year. The question is, has anything been learned?

Since March there have been serious fears of a second Covid infection spike this autumn. This spike, unsurprisingly, is now upon us. It will necessarily lead to disrupted education. This is already happening with year 11 (GCSE) and year 13 (A-level) pupils being sent home for periods of up to two weeks.

Yes, lessons will be available online but the summer term take-up of these was patchy. Already-disadvantaged pupils – with poor or no access to IT, in poor/unsupportive/inadequate homes – will be even more disadvantaged.

So, with only two terms before the exams, where is the plan that clarifies everything for teachers and learners? Education is about learning so Ofqual, the Department for Education, Secretary of State Gavin Williamson, the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister should be avid learners. So, what will happen next year?

No one yet knows.

It seems to me grossly unfair and impracticable for all pupils to sit the same exams next year. Different pupils will have missed different parts of their courses. The pressures on year 11 and 13 pupils are already intense because so much hangs on the results. Current uncertainties will only increase these pressures.

The solution, I believe, is to go back to the good old days before successive Tory Ministers of Education imposed a totalitarian national curriculum, undermined teachers’ professionalism and recreated an assessment system based solely on end-of-course exams, ie the same memory tests I took 62 years ago when I did O-levels.

What is the solution?

Instead of exams, teachers assess pupils’ work done until next June. These assessments are externally moderated, ie samples are sent to other schools/examiners to be verified. The work would be done in supervised school conditions, not at home. Over the roughly 23 school weeks left before next June each pupil must complete six pieces of assessed work in each subject.

This method ensures each pupil knows from the start the grade s/he is achieving and therefore is more motivated. It allows for the disruption of being sent home/isolated and missing parts of the course. Teachers also know pupils’ grades and can help them more specifically. Because of external moderation, no school can inflate results.

My final point is that such a plan, or any plan, should be in operation now so everyone is clear. But, yet again, as with other aspects of Covid management, no one seems to have a grip or show leadership. Or, of course, the privately-educated ex-Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove (now Minister for the Cabinet Office) and the Eton-educated Prime Minister have decreed that old-fashioned exams must continue no matter what the circumstances.


Lower Scholes


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