GCSEs 2021: More pressure on teachers in richer schools

More than half of teachers working in deprived areas were unsatisfied with the level of support provided to determine grades this year

Tes Reporter

Teachers under pressure from parents

Around one in five teachers at schools with affluent intakes say parents have pressured them over student exam grades this year, a survey suggests, but the picture is different in poorer areas.

Nearly one in four (23 per cent) of teachers at private schools and 17 per cent at state schools in advantaged areas have been approached or pressured by parents over grades, according to a Sutton Trust report.

But only just over one in ten (11 per cent) of state school teachers in poorer areas reported being put under pressure, the poll found.

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Commenting on the findings, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Many teachers have had the additional strain of coping with pressure from parents.

“We know these parents think they are doing the best for their children. But it is yet another issue which has added to the stress of an extremely stressful period. And grades are of course based on evidence of student performance rather than whose parents have the sharpest elbows.”

In a Tes survey carried out in June, one in four teachers reported that parents had put pressure on them to raise students' grades, or to change the evidence going towards their teacher-assessed GCSE and A-level grades.

And a third reported pressure from students.

The Sutton Trust report also found varying levels of satisfaction with the support they received to determine grades this year. 

While 52 per cent of teachers working in the most deprived schools of the country thought the support they received was insufficient, the ration falls to 44 per cent of those working in schools in the most affluent areas.

Variation in type of assessment between schools

The report also identifies a big variation in the number of assessments being taken by A-level students to determine their grades this summer.

Teachers in England have submitted their decisions on pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades – which are being awarded in a fortnight – after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

Schools and college teachers have drawn on a range of evidence when determining grades, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.

Almost two in five (38 per cent) teachers said their pupils were doing three to four “mini-exams” or in-class assessments per subject, according to the survey.

But the poll of more than 3,000 teachers in England suggests that 18 per cent reported two or fewer and 18 per cent reported more than six.

And while the use of exam condition assessments was consistent across all school types, independent schools were more likely than state schools to offer students prior access to questions (24 per cent compared with 19 per cent in the state sector), marking schemes (19 per cent compared with 13 per cent) and ‘open book’ assessments (18 per cent and 11 per cent respectively).

Also, more deprived state schools and those with lower Ofsted ratings were more likely to use homework and classroom work, while more affluent state schools and those with higher Ofsted ratings were more likely to use mock exams and assessments based on past papers.

Support on results day

Also for the research, a poll of more than 400 university applicants suggests that nearly half (47 per cent) believe the pandemic disruption will negatively impact their chance of getting into their first-choice university – and particularly those applying to the more traditionally selective Russell Group institutions (56 per cent).

A majority of applicants (53 per cent) are worried about being ready to start university this autumn, and around a third (34 per cent) feel unprepared to start university, the survey suggests.

Those from a state school (36 per cent) are more than twice as likely to feel unprepared for starting university compared to their independent school peers (17 per cent).

The Sutton Trust charity is calling on schools to provide as much support to students as possible around results day, and for universities to give additional consideration to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades amid pandemic disruption.

It adds that the government should extend pupil premium funding, which is targeted at poorer pupils, to students in post-16 education from next year, and they should receive increased “catch up” funding.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “This year’s cohort of university applicants have faced almost two years of disrupted education. As we approach results day, it’s vital that poorer students are not disadvantaged by the greater impact of the pandemic on them.

“Universities should give additional consideration to disadvantaged students who have just missed out on their offer grades.

“The government’s consultation on university admissions is a positive step forward. The trust recommends moving to a system of post-qualification applications where students apply to university with their grades in hand.

“This should prevent low-income students from being disadvantaged and make the system fairer for everyone.”

Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “Come results day every pupil must be supported to progress with their education, training or employment, not just the most privileged.

“The Conservatives have treated children and young people as an afterthought throughout this pandemic.

“Ministers must now urgently set out the support that will be available to pupils, parents and teachers on results day to ensure no young person loses out on future opportunities due to their failed pandemic response.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Without doubt, it has been an extremely difficult year for students and school staff.

"This has been exacerbated by late decisions by government on the alternative arrangements for awarding grades and the detailed guidance not therefore being published until the end of March. School and college staff then had little more than half a term to implement those processes.

“That said, students and their families have every reason to be confident in this year’s results, even though there have been no exams.

"The grades are based on the evidence – this is students’ work, which has been assessed and moderated by the people who know them best – their teachers. There are no algorithms this year, just human effort and human expert judgement. And this year’s grades were subject to quality assurance by the exam boards after teachers had submitted them."

Teacher Tapp surveyed 3,221 teachers in schools across England who reported that they were teaching a GCSE or A-level exam class between June 24 and 25. YouthSight polled 463 school leavers across the UK who have applied to university through Ucas this year between June 19 and 25.

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