Will we have to grade 2021 exams by crystal ball?

If 'mini-exams' are ditched and replaced with student-teacher discussions, should we use tarot cards, asks Sarah Ledger

Sarah Ledger

GCSE and A levels 2021: Should teachers give grades by crystal ball, asks Sarah Ledger

Scrolling through Twitter on a half-term weekend turned up this little gem: 

On the one hand, leaks and speculation don’t do much for our flagging confidence. But, on the other, released from the daily term-time routine of lesson prep, marking and tracking participation, perhaps – in among all this madness – it’s OK to let my imagination run amok. 

Picture, if you will, the following scene… 

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Grading by crystal ball

The head of Year 11’s office. The room is dimly lit. Behind the desk sits a portly head of year swathed in a fringed shawl. In front of her is an object covered in a black silk cloth. There is a timid knock at the door.

HOY: Come in. A Year 11 student enters. She carries a folder. Morning, Demi. 

Student: Morning, Miss... 

HOY: It’s Madame

Student: Morning, Miss Ledge…

HOY: …Fortuna. Madame Fortuna. Now, can I verify your date of birth?

Student: 18 March 2005.

HOY: Hmmm… Pisces with Sagittarius rising. That makes you intuitive, sometimes prone to act impulsively, with a great sense of humour and good teeth – although you may have a tendency to headaches around the full moon.

Student: I thought we were here to discuss my grades

HOY: We are.

Student: I’ve got a folder here with all the printouts of my lockdown work…

HOY: That won’t be necessary. 

Student: But my teachers said some of the work might be useful for evidence… 

HOY: …I’m afraid that evidence is unreliable.

Student: And they also said that any work completed remotely would be good preparation for formal assessments. 

HOY: Sorry, Demi; that plan’s been scrapped. Formal assessments will be voluntary, and we need to ensure that we have a full range of data available, so that we arrive at the fairest estimate of your educational outcomes.

Student: My what?

HOY: Grades, dear. Grades. 

Student: Well, I’m pretty good at English and history

HOY: Hold out your left palm.

Student (puzzled): OK… Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yes – my best subject is music.

HOY(inspects hand closely): Not according to the intersection of your heart and head line. This indicates a strong ability in physics…

Student: I’m hopeless at physics.

HOY(fans out a series of tarot cards): The cards suggest otherwise. You see here, the Falling Tower alongside Queen of Wands suggests a 7 or 8 in physics (leans forward; turns over another card) and (gasps) a 9 in chemistry.

Student: But I’m in set three for science

HOY: Let me see… 

HOY turns and opens a small refrigerator. Takes out a large Tupperware container of offal.

Student (startled): Oh, my God. What’s that…?

HOY: Entrails. Goat. Don’t worry – they’re organic. 

Student looks horrified.

HOY: Oh – you’re not vegetarian, are you?

Student (faintly): No.

HOY: Good. (Casts entrails on the floor. Stands over them deep in thought.) Well. This is a turn up for the books. English is looking stronger here. A borderline 7. And a secure 6 for Spanish.

Student: I don’t even take Spanish

HOY sweeps up entrails with dustpan and brush and pops them back in the fridge.

HOY: Let’s try this… (Produces a tray of small, polished rocks.) Which crystal are you most drawn to?

Student hesitantly points at rose quartz.

HOY: Pick it up. How does that make you feel? Dizzy? Restless? Sad?

Student: It’s making me feel pretty depressed, to be honest. 

HOY (flings black cloth from the object in front of her): Time to consult the crystal ball!

Student: It looks like an upturned goldfish bowl.

HOY: We’re waiting for the Department for Education to send us our allocation of crystal balls. But I have to say this has been a pretty serviceable substitute so far. Now (peers into bowl. Voice lowers an octave)…I see you…filling out an…application form… 

Student: Yes, for sixth form. I was hoping to take history and… 

HOY: …for the mounted police …

Student: I’m allergic to horses.

HOY: …or possibly the SAS …

Student: Look, this is ridiculous. I just want to talk through my grades and discuss my options for next year. I’ve brought my folder of work. (Slides folder across desk.)

HOY: Very well. Let me have a look. (Takes out digital scales. Places folder on the scales.) Seventeen and three-quarter ounces. That’s two Bs, six Cs and an A*.

Student: What?

HOY: Oh – silly me – that’s imperial measures. (Flicks switch.) Five hundred and three grams. That’s two 6s… Hang on – the conversion from Cs is not precise…  (Rattles dice and throws them.) Four 5s, two 4s and an 8. Congratulations.

Student: Thanks, Miss. 

HOY: And good luck for next year. 

My fingers are crossed: I’m hoping the leak in The Sunday Times is groundless. We need fairness for our students, not guesses. And let’s face it, not all goldfish bowls are the same size

Sarah Ledger is an English teacher and director of learning for Year 11 at William Howard School in Brampton, Cumbria. She has been teaching for 34 years

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