With the announcement that GCSE exams will not take place this summer, thoughts have quickly turned to the impact on students, teachers, schools and colleges. Somewhat understandably (considering the scale of the Coronavirus pandemic and the impact it has had on society) Ofqual, the government and exam boards have not yet provided full details on what this means for students across the country.
As a result, much of the information that has been released has provided more questions than answers. The government have announced that there will be a ‘calculated grade process’ which ‘will take into account a range of evidence’. This evidence is likely to involve a mix of prior attainment data, mock exam results, non-exam assessment and (potentially) predicted grades.
It has also been announced that there could be a further exam series in 2020/21 (potentially in September), and that there will be an appeal process for those who feel their awarded grade does not represent their ability or what they may have achieved in the May/ June exams.
Thankfully, with what will be a very tough time for many in education, at least we know that Ofsted inspections are delayed indefinitely, and data/league tables will not be collated for 2019/20, allowing leaders much needed breathing room in the coming months.
But with GCSE exams now cancelled, what is the potential impact on Further Education?
Firstly, if a September exam series is to occur, clear guidance on the setting for these exams is needed as a priority. With a new cohort of Y7s entering every Secondary in the land, the majority of schools may not have capacity to run the exams for their recently departed Y11s. Also, Further Education would struggle to cope with an influx of students who immediately need to sit exams, and all while lacking vital information on many students as enrolment begins. With some colleges entering upwards of 10,000 students for GCSE English and maths in each June series, it is unlikely many FE settings could cater for this additional exam.
Further, if the 2019/20 data amnesty is extended to 2020/21, there could be a temptation among colleges to enter all students for the November resit series. With students already having missed the final 3/4 months of Y11, potentially having received a disappointing grade through the new calculated grade process and potentially sitting a September exam, we risk continuing the trend of producing more and more students who are academically apathetic.
Though prior attainment for A-Level grades would have some validity, the same can’t be said for GCSE. There have been discussions that this could mean KS2 data is used as part of the grade calculation – as much as this can be a reasonable indicator at times, this could potentially provide a worryingly inaccurate variable: basing a Y11’s grade on a result which was achieved at 11 years of age.
With English and maths attendance an on-going concern in FE, and sitting nationally between 75%-80%, could this become an FE specific variable in the final grade?
Also, there are likely to be many more parents calling for FE colleges to allow students to resit in November and June, in an attempt to improve grades for a better chance at apprenticeships or jobs after college. This is not to forget about the minority of students who, for a number of reasons, produce little in-class work over an academic year, potentially ensuring a poor final result (where once they may have crammed and scraped a grade 4+). These two factors alone could significantly swell the numbers of students in classrooms, and impact teacher contact time with students, workload and teacher well-being (something which is already being tested as schools and colleges remain open).
Though a fair and necessary element of the new awarding system, the possibility of an appeal process will also add unneeded workload for many. Who is to say that all students will not appeal (pushed on by parents with nothing to lose, eager to improve their children’s grade)? Hopefully, this process will at least be free, as the review of marking process costs roughly £18 per paper, per student and leads to colleges spending tens of thousands of pounds each year in the hope of bumping students up by a few marks.
The impact is already being felt: practitioners around the country are being contacted by parents who assure them that little Jonny would have achieved a grade 6 in the exam, so a grade 4 prediction really does need to be changed.
If any silver lining can be found (and it has been difficult to find one), the government must now open the chequebook and finally begin to fund English and maths in Further Education.
Whatever Ofqual, the government and exam boards decide, FE English and maths faces an interesting future.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Tyne Coast College. He has previously worked as an English teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher. He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk.