Why not trust teachers and scrap next year's exams?

Is it outrageous to suggest that teacher assessment could be used to award GCSE and A-level grades, asks Zoë Crockford

Zoe Crockford

GCSE and A levels 2021: Why can't we scrap exams and use teacher assessments again, asks Is it outrageous to suggest that teacher assessment could be used to award GCSE and A-level grades, asks Zoë Crockford

Oh, my word. This week was going so well. The daily commute is calmer, saving me a vital 20 minutes, thanks to quite a lot of people staying at home to work. My wonderful students are totally focused, and sucking the life out of their socially distanced practical lessons, like elephants at the water hole after a drought. 

I am up to date with my pastoral duties, work is being marked (sort of), and feedback is wholesome and worthy. Plus, I actually know what we are eating every evening, which is possibly my biggest stress point in the week. 

And then this: more utterly flaky, randomly vague and unhelpful chat about GCSE and A-level exams.

GCSEs and A levels 2021: What will happen next summer?

I have just read the Tes article about the many and varied options that potentially face us next year. There are so many things to say about this – so many detailed, intricate investigations to be made.

We could unpick the logistics and balance that with data and previous performance and probably more data. Oh, and some statistics. We could ask some more top-notch people who are in charge of exams what they think – because heaven forbid we should actually ask the people who are directly affected by this. I mean, what do we know?

Just for a moment, let’s step back, before I begin a middle-aged rant to make my father proud. What are we looking at here? There are millions of children (call them students if you like, but they are children) who are out there, looking for a reliable pathway through the rest of their school days, to help them pick up where lockdown left off. 

Yes, they have missed several months of face-to-face learning, but they are back, they are hungry and they want to carry on. 

There are also hundreds of thousands of teachers who know their students thoroughly, who have stepped up to provide high-quality education in hugely worrying and uncertain circumstances. They are equipping, inspiring and enthusing students, steering them towards the next phase of their personal journeys. 

Coronavirus: Coping with change

The people at the centre of this are young people and their teachers. They enjoy a unique working relationship built on trust and years of shared experience. While we might not be entirely sure where we are headed, we are carrying on as best we can – which is as unnerving as it is empowering.

Teachers are very good at change. Nothing stays the same in teaching for any length of time. There is very little continuity and most of this change is unnecessary. It is often based upon whim, and the need to tick a box. Students are also good at change, as they are often swept along in its wake. 

Yet is this latest raft of ideas even valid or sensible? It’s pretty shaky ground we are on right now. There is a slight wild-eyed look in my eye: an air of hysteria.

And my students can sense it. There is a fragility where there was once solid conviction. Not being able to answer questions about exam content and structure to a group of revision-hungry teens is like walking in front of hyenas, wearing shoes made of lamb chops. It’s asking for trouble.

So how do we move on? I have recently learned that it is good to grumble and gripe, but it is even better to offer a solution. Dare I suggest that teachers are more than capable of assessing their students fairly and accurately? We do this on a regular basis, anyway. 

Challenging our archaic exam system

Our opinions are valued, and our guidance is well-founded. Would it be too outrageous to think about maybe going with teacher-based assessment again? Or would that challenge our archaically traditional exam-ridden education system to the point of academic anarchy?

To illustrate this further, I am shameless using the example of my youngest daughter. Let’s call her Rosie, because that is her name. 

This summer, Rosie was awarded three A-level grades that came from nowhere, bore no relation to her predicted grades and knocked the stuffing out of her.

We are all familiar with the utter shambolic chaos of the summer, so I will not relive the anguish that drove me to email Keir Starmer (he took over a month to reply, by the way). But, during an annoying exchange with my local MP, I was informed, rather condescendingly, that teacher predictions would probably not be reliable, and would lead to chaos and general dystopia. 

How interesting, given that schools are so bound up by restrictive systems implemented by government. Everything we do is dictated to us. We are institutionalised. There is no escape. 

We are regulated, observed, judged and paid according to a dictatorial system, which is fine. And yet, when it matters, we are discounted. 

Trust us. Respect us. We know stuff. We are specialists. We know our students and they know us. Ask us what we think, and we will tell you. 

Better still, ask our clients: next year’s cohort of higher-education converts. The ones who will be fighting for places among all those who deferred from this year. But that is another whole can of worms.

Zoë Crockford is an art teacher at a secondary school in Bournemouth

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