For the first time in its history, the A Levels, GCSEs and IB qualifications will not hold a May exam session due to COVID-19.

Following the decision, all UK school have turned their attention towards the way in which grades will be calculated.

This unprecedented change has raised anxiety amongst both students and staff. In this article, I will be trying to make some sense of what happens next and give some perspective about what this change means for both teachers and students.

What do exam cancellations mean for teachers?

As I see it now, teachers have two main responsibilities which are as follows:

1. Promoting learning for learnings sake

It is vitally important that all students are as well prepared as they can be for their transition into higher education or higher-level study. Therefore, continuing to deliver learning through our virtual teaching and tutorials, where possible, is key to ensure you have covered all the subject knowledge required to enable your students to progress.

Although schools and colleges have closed their physical doors to most pupils, it is important that we, as educators, keep our virtual and remote doors open as much as possible.

It’s important to continue to engage our learners in learning to prepare them for their next steps and improve their knowledge and to support their wellbeing during this time.

There has never been a better opportunity to promote learning for learnings sake which will help to produce independent and self-motivated learners.

2. Developing holistic judgements

Teachers for pupils who are taking GCSE or A Levels are required to make a prediction on what the student’s performance would be.

So the big question is how should this grade be produced?

The government are asking that teachers make a holistic professional judgement based on a candidate’s attainment in all aspects of the course (i.e. all course components) and should reflect the candidate’s demonstrated and inferred attainment of the required skills, knowledge and understanding for the predicted grade.

“Teachers' predictions for A-levels, AS-levels and GCSEs in England will be based on the evidence available - such as previous exam results, tests, homework, coursework, mock exams and what the regulator calls "general progress during your course". (Ofqual 2020)

Given the timing of the announcement to cancel the 2020 exams, exam boards recognise that centres will have incomplete evidence and that the range and amount of evidence will vary between different subjects.

Therefore, your judgements should be made on the available evidence.

If you as a teacher or as a school have set additional work after school and college closures, it is important that you exercise caution where that evidence suggests a change in performance.

The important question to ask here is, is this change in performance related to the circumstances and context in which the work was done.

How accurate are teachers when estimating and predicting?

Well, research by Cambridge Education in 2018 found that teacher’s predictions of their student’s A Level grades were, on the whole, fairly accurate. 90.1% were within one grade.

Where they were not correct, the predictions tended to be optimistic (35.0%) rather than pessimistic (20.1%).

Looking at this study can give us confidence in that teachers ability to give accurate grades. What is important from this is that we reflect carefully on the evidence we are using to determine our grades.

You can find out more about remote assessments, grading and implementing the DfE and Ofqual guidance through our bespoke webinar here.

What do exam cancellations mean for students?

What do you say to students who are disappointed or even relieved that they won’t sit for an exam they have spent two years studying for?

For students it has meant not only a sudden end to their year at school, but many are also having to deal with the impact of their upcoming examinations being cancelled.

Exams are usually a chance to evidence what students have learned in their courses, and they are important in determining whether they gain a place in their desired next programme, be it at college, sixth form or university.

It is understandable that students will have different reactions to this. What I would say is to make sure that each and every one of them is aware that, as a school and teaching collective, you are proud of what they have achieve and that you are excited for what they will do next.

It is important that students are aware that the grades awarded this summer will be formal grades, with the same status as grades awarded in any other year, and that university representatives have already confirmed that they expect universities to do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to higher education.

Students need to be aware that their responsibility is to keep learning and engaging. This is important not only for developing the vital skills they need for the future, but to support them in having the knowledge they need too. If students are not happy with their grade, schools should enable them sit an exam as soon as it is feasible to do so as part of the Ofqual appeals process.

Final thoughts

It important to remember that school and college is important but so too is your health.

Take care of yourself and each other (from a safe distance of course). And be proud of yourself, your resilience, and your ability to adapt to extreme circumstances.

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