Mary-Jo Hill

17 Feb 2021
Exams are cancelled. What does this really mean for teachers, headteachers and pupils all over the UK?

Exams are cancelled. What does this really mean for teachers, headteachers and pupils all over the UK?

Exams: What now?

After last year’s exams debacle, the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, said that this year the government will “put our trust in teachers, rather than algorithms“. In theory, it sounds great. But, how will this actually affect teachers, headteachers and most importantly, pupils?

So far, this is rather unclear. Williamson claims that the Department for Education and Ofqual “had already worked up a range of contingency options”. Right now, we have no idea of how things are actually going to happen next summer. However, prospects are not very encouraging.

In an article in The Conversation, Mary Richardson, Associate Professor in Educational Assessment at UCL, discusses how the cancellation of the exams opens the door to “a repeat of the confusion that marked the award of grades in 2020”. To her, last year’s algorithm problems and the utter mess that followed should have been used as a reflective moment to rethink exams.

For my part, my worries go towards teachers and headteachers. Not knowing exactly how this new assessment model will work, based on the way the UK government have made decisions regarding education since the beginning of the pandemic, I believe school staff will have little/or no time at all to adapt. Nothing new there. This will just add pressure to the already very pressured professionals: working crazy hours to keep their students going. The formative assessment has always been a basis of good teaching. The challenges of online learning have thrown a curveball at us. What does good learning look like online?

Online learning: ‘A lot going on and a lot missing’

My own experience of current online studying at university is that there is a lot going on and a lot missing. We have managed to recognise the change of pace that it holds but it does create huge additional pressures for those ‘delivering’ and for those learning. Some more successful than others. Early days. An effort grade is a 1 for everyone. All doing their best.

But what is the etiquette and expectation for a grade based mark in relation to effort from the student when online? Is it the engagement? How much engagement on ‘chat’ can prevent the delivery? What do teachers realistically want to see, hear and observe to make any judgement? Do they even have the time or avenue to work this out? Probably not, but a really interesting conversation moving forward. Online learning will continue to be part of our immediate future and students will need to clear on what this looks like. We know that just trying to replicate what we do in class means less is covered with less satisfaction all round.

These practices are early days when, for many, the actual access online is random and often ill-informed, through no fault of anyone, and can throw up the real stories of home organisation, or should that be chaos? All the surveys coming out now are rightly focussed on the lens of poverty but we will see the manifestation of the emotional consequences real soon, which hits all of us, whatever socio-economic group one likens to, in equal measures. Emotion is a response by all and is unilateral and does cross all boundaries. Emotional needs are felt by all of us. The announcement on outdoor and activity-based learning soon will be welcome. But the evidence is coming thick and fast on the fact that it is the younger students, not our exam students that will be needing the most attention, and not just academically.

The basics of routine are still hard to find. How to motivate everyone in the household to get up and get dressed if there is no external validation? Three weeks and counting.

Preparing to go back

Teachers will want to be back in class as much as the students. Can we start gearing up yet?

So.. this is just one of the ways I employ: music of course; sing loudly in the car, or dance badly in the kitchen… Because we know that for sure, as soon as the children are back at school, they will be inspired, contained and motivated by the teaching profession. For sure. It maybe a short-lived love-in for some. Enjoy it! Parents rejoice! They will be biting at the bit! Or let’s hope so! Teachers. The most creative members of our society with a heart of gold. Your audience are rapt. Roll on March.