The question of school grades in 2021

By Cai Parry

"Considering the inequalities students are already facing in education this academic year, the fairest solution would be to cancel exams and provide the necessary support for centres to assess their students throughout the year."

Summer 2020 GCSE, A-Level and equivalent exams were cancelled across the UK due to the Coronavirus lockdown earlier this year. This meant that the four nations’ largely independent education boards had to come together to formulate a way of fairly awarding qualifications. They chose an algorithm which took in several different factors, like teacher assessments and the school’s past performance, to mathematically award students with grades. However, after Scotland’s results day on the 4th of August, it became clear that these algorithms unfairly favoured students at independent schools and did not put enough weight on teacher assessments in comparison to the past records of student’s educational centres.

In Wales, I organised the protest to fully implement centre assessed grades as the only fair option that treated students as the individuals they are, given the time-sensitive factors of applying to university. A U-turn came in both England and Wales the following day, and the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, stated that this was due to other parts of the UK making U-Turns and that this would put students in Wales at a disadvantage. An independent review into the fiasco in Wales was commissioned shortly after, and that review has opened a survey asking for the views of young people on how to handle qualifications and exams for 2021.

So, what should be done? Firstly, it is important to understand that these are unprecedented circumstances, and time is not a luxury to come up with a plan of action. This is, at face value, a short-term problem that requires a long-term solution. In March this year, when the lockdown was first announced, there was no provision in place for ensuring all students got the same level of education. Many schools continued teaching online, some doing better at this than others, and some schools facilitated a day or two of in-person learning before Summer. This trend has continued from September too. Distance and digital learning is not an adequate substitution from teaching face to face, due to technical issues and a lack of an appropriate environment at home.

Child home learning