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.