When the announcement came that GCSEs would be cancelled, I think my 16-year-old was in shock. Never could she have imagined that she wouldn’t get to sit those dreaded exams. And dread them she had. But at the same time, after what we like to call ‘mock shock’ she was geared up and ready to give it her all – one last push.
Is this the way it should be though?
This is something that has been bothering me lately. There are so many 15 and 16-year olds up and down the country who spend their GCSE years in a state of lethargy and denial, only to pull it out of the bag last minute to leave with a respectable set of exam grades.
When it comes down to it, all GCSEs represent are who is better at cram-revising to get through a set of tests.
And I truly believe this because I can’t imagine for one second that the kids who do this remember much of what they learned to get through those tests. Add this to the fact they’ve not paid much attention during lessons in the two years previous and I can’t for the life of me fathom what use these grades ultimately are to them in the long-term other than to get them onto the next level.
I may be generalising here, of course, I am. There are plenty of kids who work their socks off throughout their school lives and get the results they deserve because of that. But let’s not kid ourselves here. There are hundreds, if not thousands of unmotivated students who don’t see the point of school and studying for exams in subjects they think they will never again use or need to know about.
The only point of the GCSE exams is to get the children onto the next level and to allow the school to be assessed in terms of performance.
Of course, this year everything changed. All those children who had planned to pull it out of the bag last minute didn’t get the chance to. Then suddenly, the idea of an algorithm to assess their grades becomes unfair. Who knows the children and their potential better than their teachers? In reality, the only fair assessment for these kids was to take the grades their teachers thought they deserved based on their performance over the last two years. And isn’t that what the essence of the GCSE exams should be all about anyway? A result based on overall performance throughout the course; what could be fairer?
Let’s take this radical idea: do away with final exams, and grade based on continual assessment.
Wouldn’t this ensure that students stayed alert and motivated throughout the course, not just for the last few weeks before the final exams? They’d have to, wouldn’t they? And a situation such as we’ve been in, still are, wouldn’t be an issue when it comes to assessment.
I took an A-Level in Maths many moons ago. I came out with a B, which was my highest grade out of the four A-Levels I sat.
The reason I did so well in this A-Level was, I believe, because the course was modular. At the end of every term, we sat an exam and each of those exams counted towards our final grade. It meant that I had to be on it and aware for the entire course: no last-minute cramming for me. It also meant that by the time the final exams came around, I had a fair idea of how I was going to do overall and that certainly took the pressure off.
I got a D in Biology – two grades lower than I was predicted.
Our teacher had forgotten that there was to be a separate paper in the final exam on Genetics. He hadn’t taught us the syllabus and we had to take extra lessons to get through it in time. You can’t cram-learn Genetics. Not in my opinion. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I know this paper cost me two grades.
We didn’t appeal, sue or complain though. It was just misfortunate; something we would have to live with.
These things do happen, although they wouldn’t have been an issue if the course had been assessed on a continual basis, not reliant on one final examination.
We have an education system that is obsessed with grades and league tables, but that doesn’t take into account the education – actual education – of young people to prepare them for their future lives. When is this going to change?
I truly hope we can learn something from the experience of 2020, but something tells me that we won’t; that we will write this year off as a blip, try not to compare the results previous and beyond to the class of 2020; the ones that got away with it; the ones whose grades were higher because they were… oh, hang on… given grades that refelcted what they were deemed to be actually capable of.
That this year should be the exception rather than the norm is what doesn’t make sense to me.
What do you think?