When Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for UK’s Education, announced that year 11s and 13s would receive teacher assessed grades, I was quite relaxed. But as the summer came, Year 12s were in a state of inconsistency up until this February when he announced the current year would be receiving them too.
The mock exams make up a percentage of the final grade, along with possible grades from assessments (done in typical exam conditions in the classroom). Teacher-assessed grades help those who have extra time and those who struggle under exam conditions. Stereotypically one exam, filled with content from 2 years before, determines your overall grade and if you’re having a rough day, week, or month, you’re limiting your prospects of achieving your target grade. This is the largest positive of teacher-assessed grades that one final exam doesn’t determine your final career prospects.
However, there are other reasons why students want to sit the final exam. It’s a feeling of deferred gratification; that all their work has finally paid off. For some, they work better under stress and their final grade may be better than their target grade. Some pupils prefer the idea of more organised education and other students may also prefer the exam situation. Additionally, there is the benefit that students can appeal to the exam boards if they feel the result doesn’t reflect the work they did, however, I think they should be also allowed to re-sit in person when COVID restrictions are lessened. The possible unevenness between those that will sit exams in the future and those that don’t now is significant. There shouldn’t just be a temporary change now, it needs to be a consistent decision.
Furthermore, there are still concerns about teacher-assessed grades. According to the TES website, ‘the vast majority of GCSE results and 60% of A-Level results in large-entry subjects’ were ‘based entirely on statistical modelling.’ In simple terms, a lot of the grades last year were fed into an algorithm with some arguing the outcome even went on your area and social class. Additionally, who’s to say teachers don’t have biases? This was evident by Becker’s ideal pupil study where teachers subconsciously labelled students as ‘ideal’ if they fitted their stereotype of a hardworking pupil. These were often middle-class. As humans, we have biases, subconsciously or not and there’s not a physical way you can prevent this.
There are also worries that the results don’t quite reflect the student as a whole. For the last year, a vast majority of pupils had to learn online whereas I know most would have preferred to be in the classroom. We, as pupils before COVID, were learning in an environment that is made for exactly that purpose. Maybe at home, we had distractions but it’s also important to remember how much we’ve lost and the difference in our home situations and mental health. Some people live in areas with better WIFI and have better access to electronics within families. A whole year of online learning and students are asked to perform to the same ability as they were doing at the start of the year, face to face. How can that be possible when we’ve lost a whole year to online work?
In my personal opinion, coursework and teacher-assessed grades work out for me but they may not work for others. The student chooses the coursework topic, writes a 3500-word essay using sources and analysis, handing it on a specific deadline. Work in real life is the same – workers are taught to adapt to what their work requires, by taking work assessments or not. Coursework mimics real-life presentations for businesses – a skill encouraged by most teachers that prefer applicable work skills.
Instead of being graded by one final grade, I’d favour a system where we choose how to be graded. An education system that isn’t based on grades but emphasises employability. A grade only determines what you were taught and forced to repeat out under exam conditions. It’s a process of memorisation and knowledge for a set of letters, rather than how much you excelled as a student and a person.
Article by a Young Reporter
First appeared in Grimsby Telegraph 4th May 2021