Students fear for their futures after exams were cancelled

‘Now my grades are based on teachers’ opinions’: Students say they fear for their futures after A-level and GCSE exams were cancelled due to Covid surge

  • Boris Johnson announced on Monday that summer exams would be cancelled 
  • Said it was not ‘possible or fair’ for them to go ahead following school closures
  • Gavin Williamson explained exams to be replaced by school-based assessments 
  • But he failed to give any detail on how and when they should be completed
  • Furious students have blasted the Education Secretary’s plans as ‘waffle’
  • Said their results are at mercy of ‘teachers’ opinion’ and could be subject to bias 

Students are fearing for their future after A-level and GCSE exams were cancelled due to a surge in Covid cases – as some say marks are now based on ‘teachers’ opinions’.

Boris Johnson announced on Monday that summer exams would be cancelled as it was not ‘possible or fair’ for them to go ahead following country-wide school closures.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Gavin Williamson explained that exams would be replaced by school-based assessments – but failed to give any detail on how and when they should be completed.

Furious students have blasted the Education Secretary’s plans as ‘waffle’, claiming their results are at the mercy of ‘teachers’ opinion’ and could be subject to bias. 

London student Alanta McKenzie, 18, said she fears teacher-assessed grades could hold pupils back from showing their full abilities.

She told The Mirror: ‘I feel like we can’t really show what we can truly do. It’s just based on our teachers opinions.’

Student Jacob Winton, 17 – who goes to Forge Valley School in Sheffield – said he was worried that school assessment marks will be considered worse than exam grades in the future.

But he told MailOnline: ‘My main worries are whether my teacher assessed grades will be looked upon in the future as a lesser grade just because I never actually completed my exams. 

‘I think teacher-assessed grades are the fairest way to do things and I am glad that there will not be a repeat of last year’s grading disaster. 

‘It was all the uncertainty that really stressed me out, but I now feel more relaxed that the people who are most likely to give me a fair grade are in charge of doing so.’ 

Sheffield student Jacob Winton, 17, (pictured) said cancelling A-level and GCSE exams made him ‘worried’ for his future

Student Joel, 18, said that the pressure of a mock exam counting for a final grade means the tests aren’t cancelled after all – just brought forward

He added: ‘The only thing that concerns me Is if the tests have to be done at home, the temptation to cheat is always there and as there is a lot riding on these tests, I think people may be more tempted to cheat. 

‘Other than that, I think it’s the fairest way as the teachers know the pupils best and know what everyone is capable of.’ 

Another student – Jake, 17, from Buckinghamshire – said cancelling exams is a ‘big disappointment’.

He told the BBC: ‘I have been working a lot harder and I feel I can do better in my exams, but I feel like I’m not going to get that chance now.

‘And because we’re going to be spending less time in school, I know over a zoom lesson it’s going to be a lot harder for me to show teachers that I can do a lot better.’ 

Others took to Twitter to vent their frustration – with several slamming the Education Secretary’s handling of the fiasco.

A-level student Danish Ahmed wrote: ‘Gavin Williamson’s briefing was awful! Can someone tell me what’s happening for A-levels? 

Speaking in the Commons yesterday (pictured), Gavin Williamson explained that exams would be replaced by school-based assessments – but failed to give any detail on how and when they should be completed 

‘I know about the teacher assessments but I need dates and content to be covered, for example! 

‘He had all of Tuesday to give us something meaningful but came on just to waffle as always.

‘Of course it doesn’t seem to bother him, though. It’s not like our futures are hugely dependent on these GCSE’s and A-levels or anything like that… Oh wait. Yes, yes they are.’ 

Last year’s exams descended into chaos after thousands of students were arbitrarily downgraded by what Mr Johnson called a ‘mutant algorithm’ from Ofqual.

Mr Williamson said this year’s system needed to be ‘fine tuned’ but would rely on ‘a form of teacher-assessed grades with training and support provided to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently across the country’ – and not an algorithm.

He also revealed that primary school SATs would not go ahead this year across England. Exams have also been cancelled in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Private schools have said they will set mocks for when their children return later in the year and suggested some may sit international GCSEs, which are still going ahead this summer. 

State schools are waiting for guidance from exams regulator Ofqual before deciding whether to follow suit.

Student Joel, 18, said that the pressure of a mock exam counting for a final grade means the tests aren’t cancelled after all – just brought forward.

He said: ‘School says they’re going to go ahead with a full set of mocks to generate our teacher-assessed grade.

Q&A: What has happened and what will replace exams?

What has happened?

All GCSEs and A-levels have been abandoned for the second year in a row, after Boris Johnson instructed schools to shut for a lengthy spell amid the third national lockdown.

The fate of technical and vocational qualifications scheduled for this month remains uncertain after ministers said they could still go ahead but met with major opposition from colleges and students.

What will replace GCSEs and A-levels?

Since pupils are certain to lose out on at least half a term of crucial learning in important exam years – following last year’s mayhem – the Government believes that even watered-down exams would end up being significantly unfair to those pupils living in regions worst-hit by the virus or in families where remote learning is harder.

Therefore teacher-assessed grades will be used – formulated by education staff who know their students best. 

What happened last year? Wasn’t it a disaster?

Exams were also cancelled in 2020. Teachers were asked to come up with grades and a ranking order for their pupils.

Although not without difficulties, this side of things proceeded relatively smoothly.

However chaos struck when Ofqual processed the marks through a programme dubbed a ‘mutant algorithm’ by Boris Johnson.

This led to thousands of students being downgraded unfairly, triggering a U-turn and the abandonment of the entire ‘moderation’ process.

With new leaders in place following the scandal, Ofqual is almost certain to avoid any repeat of a reliance on computerised exam referees, although some system will still need to be thought up to tackle potential abuses.

‘So effectively exams aren’t cancelled for us then they’re now just earlier. Thanks a bunch.’

One Twitter-user pointed out that teacher-based grades could be subject to bias, writing: ‘Racial bias within education is rampant. 

‘Exams like GCSE and A-Levels, which are marked off site, give BAME students an opportunity to alleviate this racial bias. 

‘Now they are cancelled and students’ futures are determined by their educators. This is not fair, it never will be!’

A parent – who only provided her first name Elena – said:  ‘Our sons or daughters in Year 11 and Year 13 will be the most harmed, even more than last year. 

‘They are not prepared for GSCE,A-levels (some of them have missed eight months of lessons). 

‘First mocks in our high school had very bad results. You can’t play with my son’s future.’

Another parent wrote: ‘GCSE’s and A-Levels in the UK have been cancelled! What effect is that going to have on your children and our youth’s future careers and employment?’

Someone else added: ‘A-Levels and GCSE’s have been scrapped. What does this mean for the future of the kids’ educations?’

A Twitter user wrote : ‘A-levels and GCSEs cancelled. No one likes exams but the grades that essentially plan your future are left dependent on your teachers predictions and mock exams.’

But not everyone was critical of the move to cancel sit-in exams.   

Student Brook Midgley wrote: ‘Such a relief knowing A-Levels are cancelled after months of feeling uneasy and stressed about the future. At Least it is one less thing on our collective plate.’

Suzanne Sampson said: ‘GCSE and A-levels should be graded by teachers in the future. Putting kids into stressful exam conditions is not a true reflection of their abilities.’

Their comment follows the news that schools now plan to hold their own mock exams after Mr Williamson failed to explain how staff will be able to accurately grade GCSE and A-level students. 

Headteachers have said they have ‘no choice’ but to test their pupils in some way after Mr Williamson’s ‘vague statement’ in the Commons yesterday. 

An ITV News poll of 6,000 teachers found that 92 per cent believe Mr Williamson should resign immediately over the exams debacle and his threat to sue councils for shutting schools because of Covid – just days before closing them all himself until mid-February.

Magnus Bashaarat, head of Bedales School in Hampshire, who is calling for the minister to quit or be fired said today: ‘No one actually involved in education has confidence in Mr Williamson’s ability to navigate a way through this crisis … it’s time for him to go.’ 

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, said Mr Williamson needed to ‘make a policy and stick to it’ while guaranteeing a ‘level playing field’. 

Ex-Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said of Mr Williamson: ‘He has got a lot wrong up to now, hasn’t he?’ 

Asked if he should resign, Sir Michael replied: ‘He gets other people to resign – permanent secretaries and the head of Ofqual. He has got to take final accountability for what has gone on’. 

Kevin Fear, headmaster of Nottingham High School, has said: ‘We would use a mixture of teacher judgment and our own internal assessments to form the basis of our grades’.  Kieran McLaughlin, the head of Durham School, added: ‘I would say we would conduct some in-house formal assessments for pupils which could then be moderated externally.’

Charlotte Rose assists one of her children, who is being home schooled in Milton Keynes

Private schools are leading the way by confirming they plan to test students and have them moderated independently to ensure teachers grade the children fairly. Headteachers are also waiting for exams regulator Ofqual to give guidance.

Kevin Fear, headmaster of Nottingham High School, told The Times: ‘We would use a mixture of teacher judgment and our own internal assessments to form the basis of our grades. 

Timeline: PM’s path to Lockdown 3 and how Gavin Williamson threatened to sue shutting schools before the Boris closed them

October 14 

Boris Johnson rules out a two-week circuit breaker after calls from Labour.

October 31

The PM announces a four-week lockdown beginning on November 5.

December 2 

National lockdown ends but a new tier system is brought in, with London and the south-east in Tier 2 and areas of the north in Tier 3.

December 14

London and Essex is moved into Tier 3 as Matt Hancock reveals a new mutant strain of Covid has been found.    

December 15

Boris Johnsons rules out more Christmas restrictions and said: ‘I want to be clear, we don’t want to ban Christmas’ 

Gavin Williamson threatens councils who shut schools with legal action and forces Greenwich schools to reopen after one day 

December 19

The Government announces a new Tier 4 – and bans mixing at Christmas for much of the country

December 22

SAGE scientists recommend shutting schools as a way to keep the ‘R’ around or below 1

December 28

Gavin Williams convinces Boris Johnson not to shut primary schools and open most on time on January 4

But secondaries are later closed until January 18 

January 3 2021

Boris Johnson says parents in England should send primary school children to school saying they are ‘safe. It is very, very important to stress that and the risk to kids, to young people, to staff is very small’.

January 4

Boris Johnson announces national lockdown and shuts all schools because they could be acting as ‘vectors for transmission’.

‘Depending on when students return to school, we may also try to do some mock exams. There is also the issue in many independent schools that we do a number of International GCSEs and so far these have not been ‘cancelled’.’

Kieran McLaughlin, the head of Durham School, added: ‘Left totally to our choice, I would say we would conduct some in-house formal assessments for pupils which could then be moderated externally.’   

Mr Williamson said his department and the regulator Ofqual had ‘worked up a range of contingency options’ involving teacher assessment.

But he offered few details when he addressed the Commons yesterday.

‘Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, the impact of this pandemic now means it is not possible to have these exams this year,’ he told MPs.

‘I can confirm that GCSEs, A-levels and AS-level exams will not go ahead this summer. This year, we’re going to put our trust in teachers, rather than algorithms.’ 

Mr Williamson has faced widespread criticism for his handling of education during the pandemic.

But Mr Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said yesterday the Prime Minister believes the Education Secretary is doing his job ‘to his utmost ability’.

Natalie Perera, of the Education Policy Institute think-tank, said Mr Williamson’s statement ‘was notably short on detail’.

Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘It is the detail which is all important and which schools and colleges urgently need.

‘It is frustrating that there is not an off-the-shelf Plan B ready to go.

‘What the Government and Ofqual must certainly avoid is a repeat of the shambles of last summer.’

Ofqual’s interim chief regulator Simon Lebus also highlighted the uncertainty and the prospect of teachers facing more paperwork. ‘It is going to be a lot of work,’ he said. ‘One of the concerns I have is the extra workload for teachers, but it is also going to be something that is complex in how the awarding organisations manage it.’

He said: ‘There are going to be lots of different moving parts to come up with the right outcomes.’

Earlier he expressed concern that pupils may lose motivation with exams cancelled but urged them to ‘please continue to engage as fully as you can in your education – this will put you in the best position, whatever arrangements are made for your qualifications’.

Labour’s education spokesman Kate Green also pressed Mr Williamson on his plans, saying it was ‘children, families and education staff across the country who pay the price for his incompetence’.

The National Education Union’s Dr Mary Bousted said staff need more information and ‘students and parents will want to understand how the process is fair’.

Dr Simon Hyde, of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents elite public schools such as Eton, said: ‘Students are left in limbo and school leaders will be quietly fuming.’

Source: Read Full Article

Previous post Shirtless man in horned helmet at Capitol protest identified as QAnon backer
Next post UK labs get £213 million government investment