Saturday 6 February 2021

Exams 2021: the circle that cannot be squared

3 imperfect solutions

I’m well aware of the rigour with which exam marking is undertaken every year. It begins with a meticulous standardisation process to establish ‘the standard’ which all examiners must maintain throughout. ‘Seeded’ responses hidden within the mass of live marking must be marked accurately if an examiner is permitted to continue. Next there is the precise and detailed annotation of each individual response, justifying the final mark given by the examiner. Outcomes are then benchmarked against a well established statistical model based on expected progress of the national cohort and then, finally, they are given the ok by Ofqual, acting on behalf of the Department for Education. 

The unprecedented situation (ie no exams) in which we find ourselves for the second year means that when deciding final grades for this unfortunate cohort that rigour is inevitably compromised. The pandemic has led to lots of pupils losing hours and weeks of teaching and learning. Pupils have accessed the curriculum in lots of different ways.  Even asking the exam boards to supply mini tasks doesn’t really help.  Inconsistency, unfairness and injustice prevails.  

It’s an impossible situation with no perfect solution. How do we ask the exam system for a consistent and fair approach when rewarding this cohort with the grades that impact the rest of their lives? 

These are my imperfect solutions to that dilemma:

Key Stage 4 students: focus on destinations; local schools and colleges work collaboratively to get students on to the right courses, using the year 9 GCSE options process as a model, no grades;

Key Stage 5 students: undertake tests of some sort which is moderated nationally with the possibility of exam resits remaining possible a year later;

Make the third year of Key Stage 5 fully funded. It is currently funded but at a reduced rate of £3455 in band 4a.  Change this to £4188 and allow it to be in band 5.  This allows for some year 13s to study for an extra year and for some year 11s to study level 2 for an extra year before they move to level 3 courses in year 13 and 14.

And I’m going to say it: let’s part finance the above by not giving the exam boards their annual £200 million payment.  They will just have to live off last year's profits.

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