We are living in unprecedented times. Our lives are currently on hold whilst we try to fight this deadly disease. The freedom we took for granted has been taken away from us and we have no idea how or when this lock-down will end and when we will return to normal living. This time has been especially worrying for those who have been studying towards GCSE examinations.
At the end of March, the Secretary of State for Education announced that the 2020 exam series in England would be cancelled to help fight the spread of Coronavirus. The initial information released, suggested that students would be awarded grades based upon their teachers’ recommendations. Many students were over the moon about this, since they believed that there was no way that their teacher would not give them a grade to pass the exam. Some were slightly concerned that they did not have a good relationship with their teacher and believed that their teacher might award them a lower grade than expected. Yet whatever students thought about this, they all assumed that their studies were now over, and they could happily return to a life before GCSEs with no further need to work. This sounded quite wonderful to all the teenagers who had spent the past two years studying and revising during every available moment. No more Macbeth. No more learning poems. No more creative writing. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Exams may be cancelled but students should still be studying.
On the 3rd April- OFQUAL, the government body which awards and monitors qualifications, set out their criteria for how students will be marked, and it was far from straightforward. Paramount in their thinking was to be seen to be fair and consistent. Not just to the cohort of 2020 but also to those students sitting public examinations in previous and future years.
Grades would be awarded not just based upon a teacher’s suggestion but on a range of criteria. In short, statistical analysis would prove to be the most important factor in deciding which grade to award a student.
There are three different areas that will be considered before awarding a student a grade.
- A teacher’s recommendation. These should be fair, objective and carefully considered judgements of the grades schools and colleges believe their students would have been most likely to achieve if they had sat their exams and should consider the full range of available evidence. Available evidence might include looking at a student’s progression during the five years of secondary schooling. Something that schools term their flight path. They might need to look at the average progression a student makes per academic year and mock results. Mock results are not always a good indicator. Many students perform badly on mocks as they are not always aware of how or what to revise. That is why students sit mock exams so that they can learn what they need to do in the actual exam. Ofqual states that evidence can be in the various different forms such as: classwork, bookwork, any participation in performances in subjects such as music, drama or PE, any non-exam assessment – whether or not complete, the results of any assignments or mock exams, previous examination results, any other records of student performance over the course of study.
- Schools will also be required to submit the rank order of students within each grade for each subject – for example, for all those students with a centre assessment grade of 5 in GCSE maths, a rank order where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining student, and so on. This information will be used in the statistical standardisation of centres’ judgements – allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across all schools and colleges.
- To make sure that grades are as fair as possible across schools and colleges, exam boards will put all centre assessment grades through a process of standardisation using a model being developed with Ofqual. It will probably look at evidence such as the expected national outcomes for this year’s students, the prior attainment of students at each school and college (at cohort, not individual level), and the results of the school or college in recent years. It will not change the rank order of students within each centre; nor will it assume that the distribution of grades in each subject or centre should be the same. The process will also recognise the past performance of schools and colleges. However, if grading judgements in some schools and colleges appear to be more severe or generous than others, exam boards will adjust the grades of some or all of those students upwards or downwards accordingly.
So, in short, the GCSE grades will be decided based upon
- Teacher suggestion and evidence
- Rank order
- A school’s previous results
Of course, this can lead to a great deal of what ifs?
What if you are in a very high-achieving year group?
What if your school has had poor results in the past?
What if you did very badly on your mock result?
What if you had only just realised that you needed to study more after 18 months of doing little?
I really think that when the results are announced on the 13th August there will be many surprises, some, or even many, not necessarily good. Students will have the opportunity to sit exams at the earliest reasonable opportunity in the next academic year and many may need to do so in order to move onto the next phase of their education or to begin their working lives.
That is why it is paramount that GCSE students use this free time at home to keep themselves ticking over. There really is no harm in doing a few exam papers on a weekly basis or in keeping studies going. I really hope that when August comes, students gain the results that they need. But there is no certainty. This is an unprecedented year and it really helps if you can be prepared for every eventuality. And what is more, if it was my child going through this, then I would definitely be telling them not to throw away their books just yet!