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Pick ‘n Mix approach to results is causing Allsorts of anxiety for students and damage of trust

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 13 August 2020

SHAWSHANK61 / Pixabay

Mary Richardson.

At 8am on 13 August, some five months after the coronavirus took hold of our lives in England, a generation of young people waited anxiously for the release of their Advanced (A) Level results. News reporting is always very excitable on this day and online news feeds and social media streams are traditionally filled with images of young people jumping for joy. The 2020 results day has been a more visually muted affair, but that isn’t solely due to the pandemic. The increase in attainment of A and A* grades almost 28%) has been overshadowed by the fact that, due to the way the data has been modelled, two in every five grades were lower than those predicted by the candidates’ teachers and the poorest students are hardest hit.

Earlier this year, I was cautiously optimistic about the enhanced role that teacher judgment would play in this year’s awarding cycle and how it could change our view of the professional work of teachers. Concern about the potential bias involved in teacher judgment has dominated much of the assessment discourse this year, but the public were assured that this was only one part of the awarding process to determine results. However, things began to look very diffferent a week ago in Scotland, when it was found that some 120,000 grades had been moderated downwards by the regulator.  A public outcry resulted in a swift u-turn via the First Minister and teacher grades were reinstated.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Schools Minister Nick Gibb were looking anxiously over the border on the afternoon prior to results day in England as they announced their triple lock, or as I like to call it, their “pick ‘n’ mix” approach to selecting A level results in 2020.

How about a

Cola bottle: calculated grade, or

Liquorice Allsort: mock exam outcome, or

Jelly bean: take an exam in the autumn?

If this sounds flippant, it is meant to reflect the way that young people are being treated this year. We knew that awarding would be difficult, we knew that tough decisions would have to be made, but the idea that you simply offer an array of options at the eleventh hour is insulting to teachers, to schools, to the awarding bodies and, most importantly, it has increased anxiety for students and damaged trust in our examination systems.

Data released today by Ofqual reveals that students from a low socio-economic background saw a 10.42 percentage point fall in their grades at C or above following the moderation process. Students from more well off backgrounds did not experience the same levels of reduction.  Those young people from the lowest socio-economic sectors in society have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, they have had less access to education during lockdown and yet they are no less intelligent or motivated than their wealthier counterparts. Sadly, they are less likely to challenge their grades, they are less likely to continue on to higher education and there is less support for them to do so.

Using a single, narrow determinant, i.e. an exam result, to characterise a student’s entire education is folly of the deepest kind and, as always, those who are hardest hit are those with the least capital to challenge unfair outcomes.

I was cautiously optimistic that something different could happen this year; I was wrong.


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One Response to “Pick ‘n Mix approach to results is causing Allsorts of anxiety for students and damage of trust”

  • 1
    Tim Mercer wrote on 13 August 2020:

    Agreed Mary but what’s the alternative?

    This is the frustration. We all agree (at least those of us who teach kids) that the current high stakes, hand written, summative assessment is not the best way of characterising a student’s education.

    But where is the innovation in providing an alternative going to come from?

    Are we waiting on Gavin Williamson to think it up? Since Gove, the government has consistently demonstrated a backwards looking understanding of education and how it works. Addressing your points is not going to come from government.

    The unions, bar possibly, ACSL, have been reactive to government policy announcements and have allowed the narrative to develop that teachers are more worried about their own health risks than children’s education, negating all the innovative solutions that schools have made happen despite the ineptitude of the DfE to provide leadership. Innovation or leadership will not come from that quarter.

    You’re right on all fronts, this is the opportunity to address long standing issues and create an assessment for the 21st century but frankly, if the IOE isn’t going to lead the way on what that looks like and provide a model around which the other stakeholders can rally, I don’t know who will; it certainly won’t be the government.