Heads: Exam cancellation points to 'less brutal' system

With teacher assessment being used to award grades this summer, heads hope that the exam system could be reviewed

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus: With exams cancelled, many heads are hoping for a new approach in future to GCSEs and A levels

Headteachers have expressed sympathy for young people after the government announced today that a combination of teacher assessments and other data would be used to assess GCSE and A-level candidates this summer.

However, the move, after exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, was heralded as "an opportunity" to shift towards a "less brutal system" in future.

The comments from headteachers' union the Association of School and College Leaders came after the government announced this afternoon that exam boards will use teachers' assessment of pupils' work, combined with other "relevant data" such as prior attainment, to award grades in place of cancelled exams.

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Headteachers have suggested the move to teacher assessment of students could point the way to a "less brutal system" of assessment.

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ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said he felt "desperately sorry" for pupils who had been preparing for exams, and that "the teacher assessment system outlined today leaves many questions unanswered and will clearly require more detail".

"But we are where we are, and we are confident that Ofqual, the exam boards, schools and colleges will do everything possible to ensure grades are awarded fairly and consistently in these difficult circumstances," he added.

Mr Barton suggested that the reliance on teachers' assessment of students through both mock examinations and other classwork could suggest the need for a different, less "brutal" form of assessment. 

“Teachers are experts in their subjects, they know these qualifications inside out, they know their students, and they have the professional skills to assess them accurately. We do not subscribe to the notion that exams are the only credible way of assessing qualifications, and this is an opportunity to at least point the way to a less brutal system," he said.

Mr Barton's reaction echoes comments from Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, who said this week that the move towards terminal exams at GCSE and A-level, with less coursework, meant there was less work for teachers to base predicted results on during the coronavirus epidemic. 

“We will now work with Ofqual on the detail of these plans, providing the perspective of our members in making sure this approach is as good as it can be," he said. "We are pleased that there will be an opportunity for students who are unhappy with their grades to sit exams at a later date, as this provides an extra level of assurance for these young people.”

Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “We welcome this announcement from government. Teachers are trained to assess their students and already do so throughout the year. Evidence shows teacher-assessed grades are reliable and valid.
“We expect to work closely with government on further detail to make this as fair as possible for all involved.”


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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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