This week has seen growing numbers of calls from leading education figures, universities and unions to cancel next year’s exams in favour of CAGs. It is apparent that urgent action needs to be taken to ensure a fair exams and testing system this academic year.
The growing calls to implement an alternative means of awarding exam grades in secondary this year reflect the ongoing situation where many schools are seeing huge numbers of students and even entire year groups self-isolating, with possibilities of whole school closures looming – either due to outbreaks of covid and lack of staffing or tighter imposed restrictions. This continuing level of disruption to our children’s education is making it increasingly clear that going ahead with exams which only have small adjustments is not only impractical but also unfair in the light of huge inconsistencies in the levels of disruption schools are experiencing. Recent weeks have seen rising cases in the North of England, meaning that alongside the existing levels of disadvantage in the region, our schools may be more adversely affected by disruption from Covid-19 than schools in other regions.
While leading figures are calling for the use of CAGs, feedback from the chalkface suggests a hesitation to use these given the negative press that ‘over inflated’ teacher grades received in the summer. A more appropriate approach might be for the government to work with the teaching profession to produce a rigorous moderation approach – as suggested by Sir David Eastwood and Sir Chris Husbands, the heads of Birmingham University and Sheffield Hallam University, in their call to cancel A Levels. Equally Lord Baker has advised the Education Secretary along similar lines, suggesting guidance on what record of evidence teachers should keep, while NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said that the position of maintaining exams next year is becoming “increasingly untenable”.
However, these calls have ignored the equally pressing issue in primary settings with regards to testing. As well as Year 2 and Year 6 SATs, primary schools have other statutory testing in place across the year. It is clear from feedback from North East schools that the level of disruption in students’ progress this year means the results from these tests will no longer be a meaningful way of assessing and benchmarking students. Equally they come too late to use as a measure of progress for recovery – with schools making their own internal assessments at this stage to help inform ‘catch up’.
In addition, there is a potential concern that this testing for primary students may cause undue stress to both students and staff in a year which must be focused on helping students recover from the stress and anxiety caused by coronavirus. Reports from recent years have shown that students as young as year 2 are feeling the effects of stress around testing and this could be detrimental to those students who are already struggling to deal with the circumstances of this year. Additionally, the impact on staff is hugely important in a year where staff need to be focused on supporting children in recovery and catching up with lost progress.
Alongside exams and testing, another source of concern for school leaders is the reintroduction of Ofsted Inspections from January 2020. Many school leaders believe that It is imperative that any testing that occurs next year must not be taken into account by Ofsted to adversely impact schools or change their current ofsted grade. Moreover, reintroducing Ofsted so quickly places a further burden on school staff in an already difficult year and diverts them from their priority of educating our children and helping them to catch up with lost learning.
Long term reform
As well as seeking urgent action on exams this year, it has become apparent that there are serious flaws and inequalities in our exams and testing system. We will be looking at longer term reform of this system beyond this academic year and we will be seeking the views of North East schools to help inform what that system should look like.
Get your voice heard
Exams and testing is a key issue that Schools North East will continue to press for clarity on. Please help us understand how to shape our response by filling in our very short survey to reflect your views on what should be done about exams and testing this year.