What now for Years 10 and 12?

So that’s it. CAG grades will stand. We’ll live with any supposed grade inflation (see previous blog) and university admissions tutors can now look forward to a sleepless couple of weeks. It’s the best solution from a set of bad options. But the end of this crisis shouldn’t blind us to the fact that it was only one half of the problem. What are we to do about Years 10 and 12?

These students have missed a whole term of school in the middle of their two year courses. When you consider that the ‘third’ term of their exam year is usually a revision and exam term, they’ve in effect lost 20% of their course. Of course there will have been some online provision but we know full well that this will have been much more difficult for children in crowded housing with little technology. Local lockdowns could make the disparity even bigger between students in disadvantaged areas and those in affluent areas – cases are worse where there is poverty. There is no doubt that already we are looking at a huge gap between those students in poor areas to their more affluent peers. And this is before we enter the uncertainty of Winter and the potential that brings for more disruption.

Will we insist on trying to pretend everything is the same?

Exam boards have already started to look at reducing content for the exams to mitigate some of this loss but that doesn’t address the issues above. Nor does it address the inevitable inequalities that will crop up for children in families with a vulnerable adult in the home or for those who will be impacted by sickness and bereavement over the next few months. I’d argue that rather than waiting for these problems to arise, we meet them head on now.

What if we agreed now that exams would be suspended for next year and that teacher assessments would stand instead but with triple moderation in place? Firstly the grade would be moderated internally. Then locally with a partner school (not from your own MAT or trust) who have agreed together in advance the nature of the work to be shared. Then nationally in the way coursework used to be moderated and scaled from samples. Evidence would have to be in the form of both internally examined content and work done in class. Surely that would insure against over inflation of grades?

When I first started teaching there was the option of doing a 100% teacher assessed drama exam but within a co-operative group from across a range of schools – we all had to moderate each other’s work, visiting the centre, observing the children then meeting as a group to moderate the whole. The marks for that cluster would then go forward for national moderation. It seemed to work well and in addition to creating a common standard, built local networks, reduced inter-school competition and supported young and inexperienced teachers (like myself) who were the sole teacher for their subject. Is it not possible to create something similar? And ultimately might this not be a good model not just for exams but also for school accountability?

In areas that had seen more local lockdowns and lost more school time, or for individuals impacted by the same, a scaled mitigation score could be added, agreed and decided upon by the exam boards.

What if for next year, universities offered knowing that this offer was binding and therefore should not be made if the university can’t accommodate all students – whoever they are. Or what if universities added their own entrance criteria – as Oxford and Cambridge do – assessments and interviews (even if they are online) – effectively freeing themselves from dependence on exam outcomes? Would that change things?

And if all of this worked, would there be a need to return to the old system at all?

I’m writing this off the top of my head so all comments and reality checks are welcome below. Let’s start a bigger conversation.

9 thoughts on “What now for Years 10 and 12?

  1. I think I’d go for scrapping exams and using school based assessment . I like the inter school moderation idea as well, I’m all for internal marks and moderation. The big problem though is who makes a profit! The current government are more about private profit for the few at the top rather than a fair and just way of doing things. No money going from state schools into private pockets will always be a non starter sadly.
    Excellent and quickly written post though.

    1. When I first started teaching we did a 100% teacher assessed drama exam but within a co-operative group from across a range of schools – we all had to moderate each other’s work, visiting the centre, observing the children then meeting as a group and moderating the whole. The marks for that cluster would then go forward for national moderation. Seemed to work well, built local networks, reduced inter school competition and generally was a good experience. I was wondering if it might be possible to create something similar – not just for exams but also for accountability. In fact I might add this to the blog!

  2. This is how we work for moderating EYFS, KS1 and KS2 (writing) within our locality, but with a wide range of scores. Teachers are professionals that should be trusted, the government should take that as their first commitment to the profession. Indeed, in my experience, teachers welcome challenge and support from their peer colleagues in other schools. This is where the best professional development takes place. Taking this approach would really move an outdated system into a post-covid era, where teachers are truly valued as professionals, stress is reduced for students and schools and may even shift the way Ofsted works with schools. We would have a more open, transparent conversation based on making all schools the best places for our children to learn and grow their curiosity whilst developing self-belief.

  3. I took part in something very similar in History GCSE in an OCR course which ran for 10 years. Having marked their students’ coursework, teachers would bring it to a local cluster meeting. A Chief Coursework Moderator (me) would attend, I asked them to lay out their work in rank order on one long table, then work with colleagues on creating a single rank order. (This was, incidentally terrific CPD for all) My role was to moderate and then apply actual marks.

    1. A similar system exists in primary schools for writing – see a comment below. It makes absolute sense if you can control for advantages at home.

  4. When I taught CSE (remember those?), many courses including English Lit were 100% coursework This was internally and externally moderated. The system continued into GCSE with some courses still being 100% coursework. My daughter’s English GCSE was awarded using this method.

    The removal of coursework and the reliance of final, do-or-die exams was a retrograde step for which we have Michael Gove to thank. This year has shown how important it is to have a system in place which does not wholly rely on formal exams.

    At the same time, we should move towards graduation at 18 via multiple routes – something I’ve been advocating for more than five years.

  5. Fabulous. Collaboration rather than competition. Working in improving coursework for assessment is so much more gratifying, tangible and reflective of lifelong learning for everyone than an exam.

  6. Interested that you think teacher assessment will be more fair than exams Debra. We know both are biased for different reasons. Disadvantaged pupils may actually be disadvantaged by teacher assessment as well, what a pickle!: https://twitter.com/EvidenceInEdu/status/1295359364509949958?s=20

    Presumably the same moderation arguments could apply to an exam as to teacher assessment? An exam is likely to be a better specified task to assess than a teacher designed one (they spend 18 months testing them and all that). If we let the exam board set the assessed task, then basically we are calling for coursework. We know about the amount of time and effort it takes to moderate that and that it was still seen as being gamed so it was dropped.

    The main issue with moderating exams would presumably be curriculum coverage. Some kind of way of saying ‘our pupils have only studied part A’ would presumably be needed, but not impossible.

    I know you have misgivings about the stress and performance anxiety caused by exams. I’ve some sympathy. But exams simply give us a ‘shared meaning’. Part of that meaning is how performative a pupil has been on a particular day. This is assessing a different thing – the difference between a concert performer musician and one who works in the studio with as many takes as they like. I think either perspective is valuable.

    But the key thing, whatever we decide, is not to put too much weight on these outcomes. Back to our shared meaning. We know 1/4 exams are likely misgraded. Other forms of assessment are equally unreliable. So why not just have better specified curricula, where we know what prior knowledge is required (e.g. for A-level maths) and some capacity to reteach this if required. This is what they do at some universities. This reduces the weight we put on our shared meaning, which is always going to be uncertain whatever assessment tool we pick. This in turn would hopefully make university and job entrance slightly less based on the grades you have and tilt assessments towards whether you could actually do the course/ job!

    Probably idealistic!

    1. Thank you for engaging and offering your ideas – I really appreciate it.

      No exam in the country is triple marked unless there has been an appeal against the mark and we already know that according to Ofqual’s own analysis of results in 2017 and 2018 that 50% of English and History papers marked were wrong. We can’t ignore the fact that even in a normal year, children get the wrong mark. And yes, while an individual teacher’s assessment is prone to all kinds of bias, moderation, particularly blind moderation can mitigate that. We’re in a new situation and we need new solutions, not sticking plasters to make the old, flawed one more palatable.

      As for the curriculum coverage aspect, how much of a two year course really gets examined in a two hour exam paper? It’s a moot point. I understand that for Maths there is a greater degree of reliability in the marking of exams, but for many other exams there is not the same consistency or right/wrong answer.

      I certainly would support the idea of decoupling university entrance and school graduation grading as they do in many other countries. Perhaps universities could work together to think about what that process would look like.

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