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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


GCSEs are cancelled. Here’s what the government should do

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 19 March 2020

John Jerrim.

Yesterday, the DfE took the extraordinary step of cancelling GCSE exams. this will mean that some children will suffer the consequences throughout their lifetime.

This is obviously a very tricky situation, and any solution the government comes up with will be less than  perfect.

But, in my view, one clear option is the winner. Children in the 2019/20 cohort should be award GCSEs based upon their predicted grades.

This has the obvious advantage of being relatively cheap, quick and easy to do. It is also (arguably) unlikely to be less fair than the alternatives.

Won’t schools and teachers game the system?

The greatest concerns that government is likely to have with predicted grades is that (a) schools will inflate their pupils’ grades and (b) some students’ grades will be more inflated than others (e.g. equally able children from poor backgrounds will be predicted lower grades than their peers from rich backgrounds).

On (a) there are statistical ways we can look out for schools with suspiciously high or low grades. After all, we know how their pupils have performed in GCSEs in previous years. By making clear that there will be such checks on schools, it will greatly reduce any temptation to game the system.

On (b), one of the benefits of England having a *very* data driven system is that almost all Year 11 students will have taken either mock exams or standardised tests from companies like GL Assessment, Hodder etc. Schools could be asked to justify the predicted grades that they assign kids based upon such information, and even try to do some moderation where neccesary. Although the quality and quantity of such information is likely to vary from school-to-school, there are again likely to be statistical ways we can account for this to make the best predictions possible. 

What are the alternatives?

To my mind, there are few credible alternatives to this approach. Exams could be taken in September instead, but who knows if the situation will even be over by then? It would also mean that these kids have been out of school for six months, which will create its own unfairness. Young people will also have progressed on to A-Levels or into jobs. And who will be available to do the marking of all these tests, in the prime time of the academic year?

A final thought
We all have to do our bit through this crisis. I may not be able to cure the Coronavirus, but I want my knowledge and skills to be put to the best use, where they are needed.

My hope is that this blog will help thinking on this matter. And I want to make clear, any assistance I can provide to the DfE and Ofqual on this important matter, then I will make it my top priority.

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2 Responses to “GCSEs are cancelled. Here’s what the government should do”

  • 1
    🇬🇧 TeacherToolkit.co.uk (@TeacherToolkit) wrote on 19 March 2020:

    Now is the time for teachers and their professional judgements to be trusted. For all pupils (SATs, GCSEs and Levels) where teacher assessment is submitted; externally moderated (without standardisation) given the short space of time available.

    This has to be the best option…

  • 2
    rogertitcombe wrote on 19 March 2020:

    Very sensible and well argued