Studying for qualifications this year has certainly been a different experience. Not just for students, but as their parents, it is different from everything you may have learned to expect from your children’s key exam years.
The important thing to remember about the way it will work this year is that of all the many purposes qualifications serve, the one that puts students front and centre – the one that really matters – has remained the focal point. And that is to give students a passport to the next stage of their lives.
Qualifications have currency because they are accepted and well-understood indications of students’ achievements. They open up the next stage of their journey, whether that is education, training or employment. The qualification a student achieves must demonstrate that they are ready for their next destination.
Students this year are being assessed on their actual performance, on the content they have studied. To make this as clear as possible, we created a guide for students on this year’s arrangements, as well as accessible, easy read and British Sign Language versions. Students’ results will not be consolation prizes. On the contrary, their results will be what results should always be: a measurement of what they know, understand and can do. Where students are taking a qualification such as plumbing, accountancy or veterinary nursing, then assessments may need to be delayed until they are able to demonstrate their practical skills safely.
The system this year may have been redesigned to account for pandemic restrictions, but this in no way detracts from your children’s accomplishments. Results this year will demonstrate that despite the disruption, students have still achieved and will still move on to the next stage of their lives.
Teacher assessed grades
You may have been more deeply involved in your children’s studying this year. You may be very familiar with the topics they are working on and so how grades are determined will perhaps be of even more interest to you.
As you know, teachers are using evidence to decide grades this year for GCSE, A level and some vocational and technical qualifications. Teachers have had their heads steeped in grading systems for years – they have seen hundreds of examples of students’ work that fall across the grading spectrum. If you are unsure about the evidence being used to determine your child’s grade, speak to their school or college for reassurance. But do remember that grading must be based on the evidence and, as such, grades cannot be the subject of negotiation.
Teachers are instrumental in making grading work this year and their professional judgement is key to the whole process. For GCSEs, AS and A levels, we have provided teachers with guidance on submitting the grades and making objective judgements. The exam boards, too, are offering more guidance and training to support teachers with the grading process this year. The boards also have a quality assurance process to ensure grades are supported by evidence. The arrangements deliberately build in flexibility to recognise the varying levels of past and ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic. Training providers and teachers are able to draw on this flexibility to assess students in ways which work best for them.
The vital point at the heart of all this is teachers’ professional judgement. Ultimately, they know their students and they know the grade standards.
Everyone will have had their own experience of the pandemic. Some will have enjoyed more time with their children, while others will look back on it as a time of stressful juggling of competing priorities. All of us have missed people. All students collecting results this year have shown exceptional resilience in the face of the challenges thrown at them, and that resilience will be a meaningful part of their achievements this year, whatever result they achieve.