THIS summer’s fake exam results are going to be at least as fake as last summer’s fake exam results. Grades will be determined by teachers but without the incumbrance of a messy algorithm to slow down the process.
Basing GCSE and A-Level grades on teacher predictions of pupil performance is akin to asking football managers to predict the performance of their team. It is folly, in the extreme, and represents an abject capitulation to the demands of teacher union bosses. Their control over schools has now been hugely strengthened; perhaps permanently. The role of the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, in this sad spectacle has been to sign the terms of surrender.
This triumph of the educational establishment over government is likely to be as final as it is destructive. Public examinations, rather like currencies, depend on public confidence. Runaway grade inflation has already undermined their integrity. Replacing exams with teacher predictions and then describing these predictions as ‘exam results’ is blatant fraud. The educational currency is devalued to the level of a Venezuelan or Weimar banknote.
Schools, generally, teach the importance of honesty to children (or should do so). Teacher-predicted grades are a contradiction of this concept. The Covid-19 policy of lockdown has caused the cancellation of exams this summer. Both the government and the educational establishment need to face this fact. If teacher assessments are considered necessary, they should be described as ‘teacher assessments’, not as GCSE or A-Levels.
A presenter on the BBC Today programme asked if, this summer, we should be ‘rewarding the resilience of pupils’. She seemed unaware that the purpose of examinations is to determine knowledge and understanding. The consequence of awarding, say, a GCSE pass in mathematics on the basis of resilience could have serious consequences. Take the nurse with a fake GCSE in maths who, through a deficiency in numeracy, does not realise that he or she has pressed the wrong button on a calculator when working out the dosage of medicine to give a patient. From builders to bankers to beauticians to bookmakers, knowledge and understanding of numbers really does matter. It is not an optional GCSE maths extra to be set aside because of a pandemic.
All the Education Secretary needed to do was to announce that there would not be any public exams this summer but that schools were free to issue their own 16+ attainment certificates if they so wished. Such certificates might be regarded as of little value, but they would, at least, be honest. Instead, teachers are being required to engage in a confidence trick that will fool few, if any. Universities will not be too bothered, of course. Too many are more concerned with the cash that students bring than their exam grades. And who cares if the next generation of undergraduates are unable to cope with the academic demands? The simple solution is to dumb down course content and to reward ‘resilience’. Do not expect to see much deflation in degree grades.
There will, nevertheless, be many losers in the examination game which has now been launched. It is likely to be previous cohorts of school leavers who are going to feel most aggrieved. Their exam passes are about to become worth rather less.
‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive’ – Sir Walter Scott