‘I’d 100% prefer to sit exams’: pupils on teacher-assessed grades
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced on Thursday that teachers would get sweeping powers to decide exam grades in England this year. The move, which covers A-level and GCSE students, has raised concerns about grade inflation. Here four pupils who were due to take exams this year give their verdict on the situation.
‘Teacher bias is real – they’re only human’
A-level student Musab, 18, from Norwich, fears he and others will be disadvantaged by the government’s decision to cancel exams and replace them with teacher assessments.
“It’s weird as it feels as if we’ve been working towards nothing for the past few months doing constant live lessons. This is actually my third year doing A-levels as I’ve had to redo the year due to last year’s algorithm fiasco. I’m just happy I’m more prepared this time.
“My only concern really is teacher bias, I just hope that they can be as objective as possible and give everyone the grade they deserve.
“Teacher bias is real, they are only human. It’s fair enough, it’s probably the next best thing to do it this way, but I’d 100% prefer to sit exams.”
‘The government could have let us know much sooner’
Liam, from Chester, is studying towards A-levels in geography, psychology and media studies this year.
The 17-year-old believes he will fare well by having his teachers decide his grades, but is not convinced that grades will be awarded entirely fairly.
“I’m glad this decision has been made after we have missed seven months of face-to-face education. However, I think that coursework should not play a major role in the grading of students as some is partially incomplete due to the lockdown,” he said.
“The same goes for mock exams. When we took them, we were under the impression that they weren’t really important, and now they are. The whole thing seems like yet another last-minute decision. The government could have let us know much sooner.”
Liam also fears grade inflation could dilute the value of his year group’s A-levels. “I think this will allow for teachers to potentially give students higher grades than they perhaps deserve, as well as some teachers failing students who would have passed in proper exam conditions.”
“In any case, the value of this cohort’s A-levels will be greatly reduced – everyone will know we haven’t sat exams. I’m definitely worried recruiters might look at us unfavourably. The government needs to reiterate that we are worth the same, and say that we shouldn’t be discriminated against.”
‘Our obsession with exams was always ridiculous’
David, 18, from Derbyshire, is studying for a combined English literature and language and a history A-level, and was dreading having to take formal A-level exams this year.
“I have moderate to severe ASD [autistic spectrum disorder] and ADHD, and am honestly just relieved. It was unrealistic and would have been unfair to force exams to go ahead in 2021. I was quite concerned about another ‘mutant’ algorithm being used to assess our grades, which seemed to favour those from more privileged, privately educated backgrounds. I do believe my teachers will do a good job of awarding grades, but if something goes wrong, people will inevitably blame them, which seems unfair.”
In the absence of clarity on what kind of assessment guidelines teachers will be given, he worries what teacher-assessed A-levels will look like.
“I am concerned about how the teachers will decide what evidence to submit for the assessment. Some of us have missed handing in one or two pieces of homework due to various circumstances. However, I am hoping that maybe this pandemic could finally demonstrate how our exam-obsessed and intensely stressful education system is not working.”
‘I would prefer to sit exams and reap the rewards of my work’
Bella, 15, a GCSE student from London, understands why exams were cancelled but feels frustrated about the government’s delay in communication.
“In an ideal world, without Covid, I personally would have preferred to sit exams, but I acknowledge that they simply could not take place. While I personally had not fallen behind, many people I know have, because we were told that exams were cancelled. The delay between announcing this and the news that we will be assessed formally in some way seems very unfair.”
Grade inflation is not a primary concern for her, but she believes the rewards for her hard work may be diminished through a combination of teacher-assessed grades and the “mini-tests” that GCSE-level pupils will now have to sit instead of proper exams.
“It’s better to have grade inflation than deflation, and to reward students for such a difficult year. But it’s also a bit unfair. The struggle of GCSEs is having to memorise a vast amount of knowledge, but now with shorter topics tests, it will become a lot harder to distinguish between the top and bottom grades. Having worked so methodically and diligently for the past two years, I feel like my energy has been wasted.”
Like others, Bella is acutely aware that lockdown has created an even more uneven playing field for students.
“I know lots of people who simply couldn’t keep revising and haven’t done well in their mocks, for various reasons. Many people have been depressed and unmotivated. My school is now consulting with every pupil and parents about how to best assess them. They are trying their best.”
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