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GCSE pupils have had the roughest deal of all


YOU didn’t need to be a genius to see that the decision to scrap public examinations in the summer of 2020 would lead to an almighty battle.

Like many I was sorry to see lockdown imposed, but accepted that this was probably the best solution in the light of the state of knowledge and the state of preparedness that the country was in. When I heard that GCSE and A-level examinations were cancelled, however, I contained my fury, feeling that having left teaching over four years ago I was not in a position to shout loudly at the obvious weakness of this decision.

A-level students have had to deal with a dreadful muddle, but most will probably, hopefully, get a place on the ladder to their chosen destination. They, at least, have some concrete evidence of their academic progress from their GCSE results (often quoted as a more reliable indicator of university achievement than A-levels).

For sixteen-year-olds, however, the betrayal is deeper and more brutal. For 11 years, for most of their life and memory, this cohort have lived within a structure at home and school which emphasises the need to work hard and to aim high for their first great rite of passage, of being tested through external examination. The culmination of 11 years has been tossed aside by the refusal of the examination boards, Ofqual and the Department for Education to take responsibility for devising a streamlined, feasible and open examination opportunity as a first choice, with a back-up teacher assessment to support it.

All examination boards have a set of alternative questions and enough examination centres could have been opened in late June to late July to accommodate a short examination season. Only if the health situation was too risky should this have been cancelled. It is not beyond the wit of examiners to devise new questions to suit a shorter paper, if necessary, and have them printed in time.

If all subjects had been allowed a maximum of one two-hour paper with limited topics for question, if all schools had been solely used for GCSE examinations for one week or up to ten days if necessary, and if the examination boards, Ofqual and the Department for Education had put some proper effort into this, it had a chance of working. Instead the ‘responsible’ parties took advantage of the lockdown to proffer some weak arguments about the inequality of access to revision as an excuse to scupper the examination system for all.

There is now talk of delay to the results for GCSE, which are due on Thursday. NO, Mr Williamson, Mr Johnson and the rest of you who went along with this disgraceful fiasco. Give the teacher grades, with all their faults, do not allow anyone to receive lower than their ‘mock’ exam grade as their final grade and live with the grade inflation. The youngsters didn’t make this mess and they should not have to take further punishment from those who did.

In two weeks sixth-form courses begin. If results are not known until the day on which these start there will be even greater turmoil as schools and colleges try to assimilate the results, allocate places on courses and deal with the inevitable raft of appeals. The same students who have had the anxiety and abandonment of the GCSE summer exams will have to face yet more chaos as they start their A-level, BTEC or equivalent course or training.

The highly paid servants of the various bodies overseeing this should eat some humble pie and take responsibility for having placed this year group in the most disadvantaged position of any after lockdown and look to make some recompense.

Editor’s note GCSE results are now expected to go ahead as normal on Thursday, August 20. GCSE results in England will now be based on teachers’ assessments of their students, unless the grades produced by the controversial algorithm are higher, the regulator Ofqual has announced. But should a pupil’s moderated grades be higher than their teachers’ prediction, the moderated grade will stand.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he was ‘sorry for the distress this has caused’ after performing this U-turn on the system for awarding A-level and GCSE grades.

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Linda Beskeen
Linda Beskeen
Former deputy head of a grammar school and teacher for 25 years in comprehensive schools.

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