Important questions amid the exam chaos
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Update - good to see the Ofqual apology and change of direction announced 17 August
This year the Premier League did not have the scores of un-played games decided by looking at the past performance of clubs, ranking the players then announcing the results. It would have been seen as ridiculous and unjust. Yet the past performance of schools and the ranking of candidates was seen as the right way to estimate exam grades this year.
This crude stab, labelled “continuity”, means the past becomes the biggest factor in determining the future but is the opposite of what we try to teach children. We seek to lift their vision and believe in themselves. The past need not define them, we say and yet for thousands of teenagers, it is the only thing that has mattered. In my 20 years of headship in both state and private schools, I have not witnesses such capricious treatment of exam candidates.
The “ad hominem” argument, a popular weapon in any politician’s arsenal, was soon whipped out and waved around. You know the one - attack the people not the substance of their argument and avoid a proper debate. In this case, it’s the teachers who have overestimated grades, they can’t be trusted to get it right and so the algorithm has to downgrades these optimistic guesses. “They were so generous that it would have meant a huge increase in top grades, up to 38%.” reported the BBC. What they do not say is that overestimation is commonplace. It’s a defensive move. If we don’t do it our kids get lower grades than they should when everything is moderated downwards. Like an appeal for a foul in a football match, it’s part of a bigger event.
Meanwhile, there are two big issues that seem to have been ignored. Firstly although no exams were sat the proportion of top A-level grades in England has increased by 2.4 percent. This means the brightest who didn’t sit exams this year are greater in number than the brightest who actually sat exams last year. How does anyone know this and who decided on the uplift?
Secondly typically results come out in mid-August because so many papers have to be marked, checked, moderated and so on. This year the predictions went to the exam boards ages ago and the rank order of schools was already known. There has been plenty of time for Ministers to look at the results, consider the consequences and ask “Does this look about right? Does it look fair?”. No matter what they say now it looks like those in charge didn’t ask this. It seems as if they don’t care about the pupils who really didn’t deserve any of this.
If we teachers are accused of exaggerating, I am very happy to be called out for overstating just how important these young people are to all of us. I dare anyone to use an algorithm to downgrade this opinion.
Peter Hogan has been the Head of schools in the UK and Asia for 20 years. He writes about schools, teaching and learning here at hogan.education and is a qualified Life Coach. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org