Both the workload and the level of responsibility staff have shouldered in providing accurate results need to be duly recognised, writes Julie McCulloch
With vocational and technical qualifications and A-level results imminent, let’s just remind ourselves how we got here. Because this is, of course, a results day like no other.
The global pandemic and the educational disruption it has caused have had a massive impact on learning and led to the cancellation of public exams for the second year in succession.
Indeed, it would be fair to say that no cohort of students has had to cope with such educational turbulence since the second world war.
They have experienced two lockdowns in which colleges were closed to most students, and intervening periods in which many students have had to periodically self-isolate because of Covid and the associated safety processes.
Some will have fared better than others because of a wide variety of factors – whether they had access to technology and a suitable space at home in which to study, the severity of the pandemic in their area of the country, and the emotional impact of coronavirus in their own lives such as bereavement and family financial problems.
In short, the learning experience of these students will have differed widely and the system of teacher assessment introduced in lieu of public exams was deliberately designed to be flexible enough to take into account this differential experience.
Teacher assessment was designed to be flexible enough to take into account differential student experiences
In truth, it’s a system that could and should have been put in place a lot earlier than actually happened. We were warning the government about the need for a contingency plan in case exams couldn’t go ahead way back last summer.
Unfortunately, the government failed to act on those warnings and this resulted in an almighty scramble to set up and implement a teacher assessment system once the decision was made in January to cancel public exams.
It is to the enormous credit of teachers and leaders that they implemented this new system from scratch in such a short space of time and that they worked so diligently to give their students grades that are fair and accurate.
They have gone the extra mile and then a few further extra miles.
And it is also to the great credit of students that they have shown such fortitude in applying themselves to their studies and the assessment process as well as coping with the pressures of the ongoing pandemic.
There is, inevitably, speculation about grade inflation this year. It would certainly not be a surprise if the grade distribution is different than in normal years because this is essentially a different approach to assessment.
Crucially, the approach this year is based on teachers’ holistic judgements of a student’s performance across a range of assessments.
But this does not mean that grades are devalued. On the contrary. This cohort of students have experienced an extraordinary level of disruption and pressure and their achievements in such difficult circumstances should be celebrated.
So too should the work of their teachers in turning round these results amidst the chaos of the last few months. It has involved an incredible amount of additional work alongside all the pressures of continuing to operate Covid safety measures in their colleges.
And it is not only the workload involved that has been so demanding but also the level of responsibility involved in providing fair and accurate grades which are so important to young people in our high-stakes system.
Despite the stories about parental pressure, the possible involvement of lawyers in appeals and all the other controversies, what we’re hearing from college leaders across the country is that the process has actually gone as well as it possibly could.
What we’re hearing from across the country is that the process has actually gone as well as it possibly could
That’s testimony to a profession that has stepped up to the plate, and a generation of young people who are remarkably resilient – contrary to the opinion of some commentators.
The signs are good that the pandemic will soon pass. The young people receiving their results this week will move on to the next stage of their lives and they will have every chance of bright futures ahead.
That is certainly what they deserve after such a torrid 18 months. We wish them well.