What's new

Do you think GCSE and A Level exams should go ahead in 2021?

Do you think GCSEs and A Levels should go ahead in 2021?


  • Total voters
    12

Matt N

Strata Poster
Hi guys. Due to lockdown 1.0, exams were scrapped for the first time in modern history in summer 2020, in a move that would previously have been thought utterly unprecedented. Instead, GCSE and A Level students were awarded teacher-assessed grades.

As we enter 2021, another exam season is soon going to be upon us. In spite of the fact that Gavin Williamson and the Department of Education released measures that will be taken for the 2021 exams, the topic is still a very contentious one among those in education; students and teachers alike all have differing opinions on whether they should go ahead. With the new COVID variant rapidly taking hold and causing a new (albeit currently brief) round of school closures, calls to scrap exams in 2021 are once again increasing. So my question to you today is; do you think that exams should go ahead in 2021?

I probably shouldn’t question the government on this, as they know far more than me, but as someone who’s due to sit A Level exams in June 2021, I would personally quite like it if they didn’t go ahead this year. As much as exams offer an opportunity for you to really prove yourself in a practical setting, and do open up a window for huge improvement quite late on, I’ll admit to you all now that the thought of sitting my A Levels in June genuinely terrifies me. Even though I’d say I’ve done more revision for my A Levels than I had done for my GCSEs by this point in 2019 (I’ve tried to keep up a pretty consistent revision effort all the way through my A Levels), I feel considerably less prepared for my A Levels than I did for my GCSEs, personally, and I’m far more scared about sitting A Levels than I was about sitting GCSEs, even though GCSEs were my first experience of proper exams. I just worry that if I take exams, I’ll completely mess them up and disappoint everybody. As much as remote learning may not seem like it would have much of an effect on the face of it, I think it had a huge effect on me; as much as I tried to do as much work as I possibly could during the first lockdown, I still feel as though the areas I taught myself during lockdown are quite substantial gaps in my subject knowledge.

But as I say, the government and the DfE know far more about this than me, and I really shouldn’t question them!

But what are your thoughts?
 

JoshC.

Giga Poster
There's no easy answer here.

Let's look at a specific case (and arguably the most important one) first. A Level results, and university places. Though in the long term / wider perspective, missing out on a university place isn't the end of the world, but it is hugely important to those at the time. And I'm of the opinion that doing the wrong university course for you is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Go to somewhere that's too hard for you, and you struggle and flounder, go somewhere too easy, and you don't get enough out of it. Obviously there's the extra curricular and personal stuff too, but ultimately you still need to be doing a course which is right for you too.

That's what the entry requirements and exams are there for: to see if a course is pitched right for the student. If a student misses those grades, they'll likely struggle. If they exceed those grades by a lot, then maybe there's a course which might be more rewarding and worthwhile from an academic sense. Getting roughly the required grades means they'll likely be fine.

The trouble with teacher assessments, predicted grades, etc. is that, generally speaking, they are much more lenient. Predicted grades in particular are over-estimated. And there's no real way to control and moderate that (which, again, is another reason why exams are necessary). So using them means that students will likely go on to do courses that aren't best suited them, and possibly struggle. And from what I've seen being at a university and interacting with first students, that is certainly the case. There's students who are on the course who, simply put, shouldn't be there as they don't have a strong enough background. And then what? Does the university change their course to be more suited to the average level (which has knock on effects), or do they just let those students flounder?

But then, how do you run exams in this climate? Lessons have been disrupted, and realistically there's no way to ensure there's as level a playing field as possible. Not to mention the logistics of running exams - I don't think any exam I've sat has had desks spaced 2m apart, for example, and they regularly took place in full (not well ventilated) halls.

One possible solution would be one that involves some sort of formal assessment along with a mix of teacher assessment and discretion. But that's just a vague sentence, with no idea of implementation. How do you create a formal assessment? Is it localised by each school and moderated elsewhere? How do teacher assessments be judged fairly? etc

That's only one specific scenario, as mentioned. For people doing A Levels who are not going to university, they have different worries. Some may need grades for a job. Some may realise that further education isn't for them, but just want the satisfaction of completing their courses fairly. You then have GCSEs too, which again have lots of short-term effects for individual students. Arguably not to the level of A Levels, and perhaps easier to deal with, but there's still a lot of variables to consider. So there needs to be a solution which caters to everyone.

I'd be interested how schools in other countries handled the exam situation this last summer (I genuinely do not know).


On a tangential note, I do think that one thing this highlights is the importance of coursework and modular courses (as opposed to one big exam at the end, which I believe our exam system was moved to). Over-reliance on one exam on one day is not a good way of judging someone's performance. Admittedly, that comes from a biased standpoint, as I absolutely hated exams with a passion, but I do think that had there been more coursework and modular results available last summer, an ever so slightly better calculation method could have been decided upon.

Whatever the government decides to do, I don't think it will be a good decision for the majority. That's in part because the way I see it, there's good decision available, and in part because the government have shown time and time again they cannot make a good decision in a timely manner.
 

Hixee

Flojector
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Social Media Team
I mean, Josh has pretty much covered everything I'd think to say. No right or wrong answer, really. Thankfully, we can be sure this government will take long enough to make a decision that it'll be wrong either way. ;)

I don't follow it all closely enough, but I will say that I think we might need to see how January/February plays out before siding too heavily one way or the other...

But as I say, the government and the DfE know far more about this than me, and I really shouldn’t question them!
Please, please, don't grow up with this mindset. Regardless of your political standing, do not take everything the government says as gospel. Politicians lie, they make mistakes, and they don't own up to them. You absolutely should question them, as you should everyone providing information or advice. What's their data based on? Do they have a stake in the game? How has their previous advice faired?

Begin digression...
On a tangential note, I do think that one thing this highlights is the importance of coursework and modular courses (as opposed to one big exam at the end, which I believe our exam system was moved to). Over-reliance on one exam on one day is not a good way of judging someone's performance. Admittedly, that comes from a biased standpoint, as I absolutely hated exams with a passion, but I do think that had there been more coursework and modular results available last summer, an ever so slightly better calculation method could have been decided upon.
I will add a personal interjection here, as I think I have a somewhat unique perspective having done both.

At university I studied my first two years in Sheffield, then took part in an exchange program and studied my third year (technically the end of my undergraduate degree) in Madison, Wisconsin, before returning to Sheffield to complete my Masters. In Madison they follow the more traditional American model of midterms (exams one or twice throughout the semester), graded weekly assignments ("homework", if you like), and then finals. Some classes has fewer midterms/assignments and a coursework element. Sheffield was, unsurprisingly, a traditionally UK approach with most modules relying on one final exam.

My opinion - they're both tough. Especially as your degree gets more advanced in it's latter years there's more and more 'hard stuff' to learn.

The UK system has the advantage for those people who like to control the flow of their own learning. Yes, this enables people to sit back and relax all semester, cram for an exam, and walk away with a decent grade, BUT it also let's your make your own priorities. If one module has a coursework deadline in two weeks, you can park the other 'non-mandatory/graded' for a bit.

The US system has the advantage that a 'bad day' in an exam doesn't derail your grades completely. It takes the pressure off the one big final, but also means you lose a lot of autonomy. Coursework due in two weeks? Tough ****, those other four modules still have their weekly graded homework due. For some people, that's hell.

(For the record, it worked well for me as that suited the way I learn and the way I approached my studies. I got some of my highest grades while stateside, and once those were converted back to a "UK equivalent" it really took the pressure off the final year - relatively speaking, the final year was still intense! Plus, typically (or at least, in Madison) your exams are done BEFORE break. No studying over Christmas? Yes please.)

...End digression.
 

FarleyFlavors

Mega Poster
In Madison they follow the more traditional American model of midterms (exams one or twice throughout the semester), graded weekly assignments ("homework", if you like), and then finals. Some classes has fewer midterms/assignments and a coursework element. Sheffield was, unsurprisingly, a traditionally UK approach with most modules relying on one final exam.
Is this really a traditional UK approach? I genuinely don't know. At Glasgow University I had exams just before the Christmas and Easter breaks. If you got a high enough average score in those two exams, you were exempted from the final exam and granted a pass for the year.

(This could well be something to do with the "ancient" status of the University which does mean it has a few anomalies).
 

Hixee

Flojector
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Social Media Team
Is this really a traditional UK approach? I genuinely don't know. At Glasgow University I had exams just before the Christmas and Easter breaks. If you got a high enough average score in those two exams, you were exempted from the final exam and granted a pass for the year.

(This could well be something to do with the "ancient" status of the University which does mean it has a few anomalies).
I mean, it was the case for almost everyone I know from school, but can't promise it's completely standard across the board.

How are grades determined? Or is everything just pass/fail?
 

JoshC.

Giga Poster
From what I've heard, a big final exam is pretty standard for UK universities.

Just for my experience: during my undergrad, effectively all exams were in the final term, either in April or late May/early June. Depending on the module, the exam was either worth 100% of the score in that module, or 85%, with the remaining 15% coming from weekly graded assignments (a number low enough that theoretically you could largely ignore / put no effort into the assignments, and still get a good overall score by performing well in the final exam, but in practice the assignments were necessary practice to learn the material).

It's a similar set up now for where I do marking and some teaching, but 90%/10%, and a couple more exams in January to spread the load out for students.

Science-based courses have the bonus of a greater flexibility with how they can do assessments I guess, whereas arts and humanities are restricted much more.
 

furie

SBOPD
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
I think that the government (even though this idea would be hard to plan out, we've done a lot of impossible things over the last 12 months ;) ) missed an opportunity to "reset" the year.

Hold everyone back a year and allow them to resit.

We'd have an entire generation of school leavers who benefited from that extra time to mature and extra time to go over things and cement information. We'd have a generation of incredibly well educated kids.

Instead, we have a bit of a mess. MMF lost three months of school. madame_f had kids she teaches getting grades that would have been impossible if they had actually sat their exams.

Universities will continue to take people. If exam results are lower, that will be taken into consideration- universities are businesses and they need students. They'll just lower entrance requirements
Or maybe the exams will be easier or grates bolstered?

So what we have more is a trust issue in their future.

Employers in the future looking at potential employees (certainly these two years of exam takers) will look at them with less trust than potential employees a year older. They may be right to do that, but...

Current school levels of education are considerably higher than when I was in the education system. As an employer, I wouldn't worry personally, but I'll bet the aren't many think that way.

It's a mess, but it will actually work out okay on the end, these things always do. There's bound to be some fallout, but this is so huge that it has to.
 

Gazza

Giga Poster
What's the issue with holding exams in a spaced out manner? Eg instead of having them in a hall, literally use the whole school with like 6 or desks per classrooms, and extra supervisors?
 

gavin

Administrator
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Social Media Team
What's the issue with holding exams in a spaced out manner? Eg instead of having them in a hall, literally use the whole school with like 6 or desks per classrooms, and extra supervisors?
Because, assuming schools are open, those classrooms would be being used by students who aren't taking exams. For example, year 11 might be sitting GCSEs, but for years 7-10 it's business as usual.

Sent from my Redmi Note 7 using Tapatalk
 

FarleyFlavors

Mega Poster
How are grades determined? Or is everything just pass/fail?
Anyone with an exemption from the final exam got an A grade, the assumption being that if you managed an average of an A grade in the first two exams, you were likely to get an A in the final.

(Should probably point out that I only ever managed one exemption - first year maths. After that, I was way too busy partying.)
 

Gazza

Giga Poster
Because, assuming schools are open, those classrooms would be being used by students who aren't taking exams. For example, year 11 might be sitting GCSEs, but for years 7-10 it's business as usual.

Sent from my Redmi Note 7 using Tapatalk
Weekend Exams?

And of course, some of the classrooms would have been used by year 11, so could be a combination of using the school hall + spacing out into the year 11 classrooms.
 

gavin

Administrator
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Social Media Team
Weekend Exams?

And of course, some of the classrooms would have been used by year 11, so could be a combination of using the school hall + spacing out into the year 11 classrooms.
Weekends aren't a bad idea, but aren't happening in UK schools for multiple reasons.

Using classrooms just isn't feasible. Yeah, Year 11 might have been using a classroom, but there's no way that the exam timing and the availability of that classroom will coincide. Exam times aren't decided by the school; everyone in the country taking that particular exam has to take it at the same time. Plus, most exams are longer than most classes, so even if, somehow, a classroom was free at, say, the starting time of an exam, the chances that it would continue to be free for more than 45 minutes or so is very slim, not to mention needing to be free prior to the exam to set the room up.

It could work here in Hong Kong since the students have their own classroom and the teachers move around, but in the UK it's the opposite: the teachers have their own rooms and the kids move.

Basically, for most UK schools, unless you're cancelling classes for all other year groups, using regular classrooms just won't work.

Sent from my Redmi Note 7 using Tapatalk
 

Gazza

Giga Poster
Ah right. Here in Aus, some subjects would have specific classrooms (Eg Science, Textiles, Woodwork etc) but otherwise there were just a bunch of generic classrooms, so both the students and teachers move around, and you're not always with the same group of students for many subjects due to electives.

But anyway, isn't this pandemic one where you can throw convention out the window...Make the other year levels shuffle around and have temporary room changes to accommodate the exams, they'll survive.
 

Heth

Mega Poster
The big thing which is often ignored (to my horror) is the safety of teachers.

My partner is a teacher, and they are possibly the most exposed to the virus out of anyone. Teacher infections in the UK are over 300% that of the average population, despite the government lying to say schools have been safe up until now. They are not provided with PPE, cannot distance from the 6 classes of 30 pupils they have per day. The government always comment on how kids are low risk, but forget all the adult teachers at risk every day. They are never thanked for it, and are disgustingly low on the list of people to be vaccinated.

Teachers have also had to plan, unplan and replan at the whim of a government which is reactive rather than proactive in a time of crisis. They are exhausted and vulnerable....but instead are treated like a national babysitting service. People simply don't care.

I know exams are important to people, but at the end of the day that is less important than the safety of un-sung teachers.
 

furie

SBOPD
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
The big thing which is often ignored (to my horror) is the safety of teachers.
I mentioned something along those lines in the Bad News Topic yesterday. The problem is simply that there isn't a set of compulsory rules for all schools. Just a vague set of guidelines that schools don't have to adhere to.

Maxi-Minor_Furie's school enforces wearing of masks and social distancing - beyond their own "bubbles". Teachers have PPE. They've had very low numbers of confirmed cases.

Madame_Furie's college have even higher standards. They wipe down every classroom after use. No sharing of any material. Handed in work has to go through 3 days of quarantine. PPE is compulsory, including gloves.

They tested 3000 students and staff before Christmas and had 3 cases of Covid confirmed.

Neither place has to do this, they do it for the protection of staff and students. We know other teachers in the area who are teaching in conditions exactly the same as before. Unless there is a set of enforceable rules, not every education establishment will do anything.

It's terrible, and I feel for you and your partner Heth.

However, this topic got old very quickly :D
 

Nicky Borrill

Giga Poster
They she absolutely be cancelled!!! This year’s exam candidates have suffered more than last years! With last year’s interruptions and this latest lockdown. It’s a no brainer for me, do the same as last year in the interest of fairness and equality...

And look to make next year’s ‘easier.’ As those in year 10 and year 12 this year have had to suffer horrible disruption to their first year of working towards their grades.

Following on from what @furie said about resetting... I still can’t understand, knowing what was coming in the winter, as we all did, even the most positive amongst us... Why on earth they didn’t plan back in Summer to have extended holidays after xmas and a much shorter break in the summer to minimise loss of learning :(
 
Last edited:

CrashCoaster

Strata Poster
I'm in exactly the same boat as @Matt N, I should be having my A-Level exams this year. Working from home hasn't been too big of a problem, but I'm under a much heavier load than most students because I'm doing 3 A-Levels and a BTEC, so 4 subjects, which takes a toll. I went in for my Business BTEC exam a week ago today, and I think (hope) I did decently. But this is the only subject that I'm not being assessed on my teachers because I've done all the course work and the exam I need to do, and I'm looking at getting a D*. Just hoping I don't get ****ed over by my teachers in my other subjects. But yeah, in summary, this is a ****e situation.

I should also mention that I have been lucky enough to have not needed to self isolate at all as of yet even though lots of my family and friends have, so I haven't missed any in-school lessons which I think has helped my case.
 
Last edited:
Top