In Scotland, the GCSEs are cancelled; exams are being replaced with coursework. In Wales the government said there will be teacher graded assessments in the Spring.
Why, oh why, has England not taken this decision yet?
A Level Playing Field?
According to research, during the first lockdown, as many as 40% had no contact with their teachers. Around 20% did no learning at all. These children basically had three, sometimes four months without any schooling.
When you’re looking at a GCSE course that students will typically cover in around 15 months, this is a massive gap in their learning. I’d suspect it’s insurmountable. So why aren’t we hearing that GCSEs will be cancelled?
What’s tragic about this is the kids who missed out on that learning are the kids who can least afford to miss out. It’s the kids without their own laptop, without a quiet place to study, without strong educational support from parents who may not have the time, energy or skills to support their child’s learning at home.
Even where children were learning, the provision of home learning was patchy, at best. Some schools sent home worksheets, some provided lessons via online platforms like Google Classroom, and others just emailed students telling them which textbook to work through. I know some schools just told kids to search for GCSE resources online.
Given the massive disparity in learning experiences, how can these children possibly be expected to sit a standard exam and be assigned standard grades next Spring?
The Private School Experience
I must acknowledge that we are in a pretty privileged position. My daughter attends a private school. We can afford tutors, we have space for Flea to have her own study, desk and laptop.
Her school has been about as on top of the situation as I think was possible. From the day kids were sent home in March, Flea’s school has delivered a full virtual timetable of lessons, along with community-building activities, YouTube assemblies from the headmaster and Zoom exercise classes and crafting challenges for the little ones.
It took a couple of weeks, but once the school got into the rhythm, provision was pretty solid. Flea had a full timetable of lessons on Google Classroom, and teachers followed up when work wasn’t submitted. The system worked so well that the school could finish early for summer, because the kids were ahead in the curriculum. This gave my child extra time to start her GCSE revision.
Not everyone else has been so fortunate.
The Challenges of Home Learning
Even so, the system was far from ideal. The kids might have been “ahead” in so far as they had worked though topics by themselves. But who was checking that they understood those topics? That they were working to the best of their potential? Who was helping them overcome challenges they came across?
I found it incredibly hard to motivate my teen to keep up with schoolwork. Our home life was very far from harmonious. We were stuck in the house together and nobody was performing to the best of their ability.
I am fortunate that we do not expect Flea to fail any of her exams. She is on track for a full set of good passes. But are they as good as they could have been if she’d been in a classroom all year, with teachers on hand? Almost certainly not. I know for a fact that there are topics the school raced through online, where my daughter didn’t fully understand the work.
Back to School?
The thing that makes me especially angry is the assumption that we don’t need to cancel GCSEs because our kids have plenty of time to “catch up” now they’re back at school.
For starters, “catch up” from where? My daughter’s starting place could be a long way from a student at another school in our town, or elsewhere in the country.
And not all students have had the same opportunity to catch up. I’m lucky that, so far, Flea has only had to miss three days of school when she had a cough. I have friends with children who have had to take two weeks off school due to positive Covid tests in their year group. Some friends have children now on their second isolation period.
Half of schools in England have at least one year group isolating. Every group of kids will miss something different.
Even when Flea is in school, there’s the challenge that teachers are also getting ill. Three of Flea’s school teachers so far have been absent with Covid since September, and that has to have had an impact on learning. Two of those staff members have been seriously ill, and may require a long time to recover.
How can we possibly expect kids to achieve – and be compared against a standard grade band – under these circumstances? It’s madness.
Exam Boards should Cancel GCSEs
The English exam boards have been about as much use as a chocolate tea pot.
First, it was suggested that the curriculum would change, so certain topics would be removed from the exams. Hey kids, drop poetry! No wait, we’ve changed our minds. Poetry is compulsory! Actually, still study everything, but we’ll make the exams three weeks later.
I cannot be the only parent who wants to shake them. Who wants to shout, “Just make up your flippin’ mind!”
It is way past time to cancel GCSEs for 2021.
I appreciate this is a difficult and evolving situation. But surely we are far, far past the point where educators need to say exams are not a realistic option for 2021. We need to cancel GCSEs in England and we need to start planning now for how students can be fairly and consistently assessed to avoid the clusterf*ck of chaos that happened last summer.
Anyone else feeling frustrated?