Emma White explores why she believes it is so important for A-level and GCSE grades to be ‘reset’ after Covid
More than 20 years ago whilst working for a large London insurance company, a CV landed on my desk for a marketing product manager role. Nothing unusual, we received them all the time, and mostly they were indistinguishable in terms of ability and qualifications. But this one stood out.
It opened with a bold proclamation that the candidate was determined to “develop world business on a global basis through and beyond the next millennium” – all that whilst working as a waiter at the Loose Moose Diner in Leeds. Amusingly, rather than “Dear Sir” he had written “Wham Bam!”
All this highlighted an issue that employers constantly recruiting for menial roles face almost daily. A mass of average applicants, chasing ordinary positions unable to be separated in terms of suitability, at least on paper. The solution was to set GCSE level exams in both maths and English language to see if their glorious claims of corporate endeavour stood true.
“Being too generous will no doubt have repercussions as the truth comes home to roost.”
At a more senior level, past work experience was of course a better indication of how strong an applicant would be, but for those lower down the ranks the headache of sifting through a pile of CVs, all dressed in the latest corporate speak and boasting a clutch of the same grades and qualifications really created a challenge for the employer and a lottery for the candidate.
This problem has never really gone away but the last two years of grade inflation through CAGS and TAGS has highlighted the issue once again. School policy, from Reception, is to work on a “personal bests” basis and identify performance as something idiosyncratic, not to be compared with other students. That’s one of the virtues of a fair society. Everyone awarded for their own personal qualities and recognised for what they do best.
This approach certainly wins hearts and minds but when last year Covid-19 meant that once again, teachers were left to award their own A-Level and GCSE grades, the former shot up from 26 per cent at grade A and A* to 45 per cent. The result, a short lived sense of achievement for the students and a pat on the back for the staff – but eventually being too generous will no doubt have repercussions as the truth comes home to roost.
Ofqual have promised that 2022 results will be brought in line more with pre-pandemic levels. It will be a gradual process but no school should expect to be on a par with its own 2021 TAG levels. No doubt across the country department leaders will be fearful of facing their SLTs come results day this Thursday (August 18).
“The public exam season is a reminder that unbiased, anonymous, moderated marking is the only fair way of presiding over who deserves what grade.”
Over the past academic year at Mark My Papers we have witnessed the full effect of lockdown learning. Results have been lower on the whole and many SLTs have asked how best they can explain results that fall short of their own 2020 and 2021 reasoning. The public exam season is a reminder that unbiased, anonymous, moderated marking is the only fair way of presiding over who deserves what grade.
Collectively, schools have bemoaned the effect that Covid has had on student performance but interestingly, as individuals, each and every school claims not to have been affected and that more than two lost terms made barely an indent.
Social media is already awash with worried teachers who are frustrated that their results are unlikely to match their own predictions. I’ve read posts claiming that the efforts of surviving lock down should be rewarded with equal grades to 2021 but that is a rather naïve request. Specifications are a product, a body of knowledge – undermine the value of the work undertaken by being over generous and the whole exercise becomes meaningless.
“Social media is already awash with worried teachers who are frustrated that their results are unlikely to match their own predictions.”
Ironically, over the last two years we have seen students with the most disrupted and battered education receive the best, most sensational results ever awarded.
Schools do have a tendency to see themselves as a bubble. The truth is, education exists for the purpose of creating a work ready society and it is universities and employers who suffer the consequences of inaccurate exam results.
Looking at last year’s results, 45 per cent of grades were worthy of Oxbridge consideration. Just think about how ridiculous that is. For every student receiving a better grade than anticipated there was a boost to expectation and perhaps an application to a university that would have usually been beyond reach.
Schools are aware of the fact that top universities are becoming more difficult to access but it is hardly surprising when on paper it is impossible to distinguish between the next Alan Turing and an ordinary worker bee.
“Over the last two years we have seen students with the most disrupted and battered education receive the best, most sensational results ever awarded.”
CAGS and TAGS fell short in providing the much needed information that universities and employers rely upon and the knock on effect has seen a log jam of applicants vying for places at the very best universities. Many able candidates will be overlooked for less capable applicants simply because time doesn’t allow every student to be considered on their merits.
I know my own son has to achieve a blistering A*A*A*A for his place to read Natural Sciences at Pembroke College, Cambridge. The increase in expectation is no doubt as a consequence that at the time of the offer, TAG grades may materialise once again and see more frustrating grade inflation.
“If Ofqual don’t put results back on track we face the very real threat of everyone believing they are a genius.”
It’s a tall order with no concession made for the fact that he has been self-schooled since Year 5. I asked him and his friends if they would have preferred predicted grades and they answered “of course” but then they felt that facing the rigours of proper public exams had been an achievement in itself, a rite of passage, although they were all very fearful of results day.
Ofqual are doing the right thing by putting our grades back on track. If they don’t we face the very real threat of everyone believing they are a genius – because their results would tell them so. Covid grades are already regarded with a degree of cynicism and it is time to swiftly curb grade inflation before the job of our universities becomes impossible.