On the day before the publication of English A level results, it seems clear panic is setting in at the DfE. The desperate last minute and unworkable attempt to allow students to count mock results is evidence enough.
The situation is probably one where there are no wholly good answers. But there are some important “if only’s” that must be remembered.
If Gove and Gibb had not wiped out AS levels, module tests and most coursework the evidence base for results would now be much more robust. This was anyway an act of educational vandalism but it is also now clear that it made the system much more unsafe. It seems Labour Wales may be in a better place as a result of taking its own approach to exams.
And if, in March, the DfE had put in place a system for moderating centre’s estimated grades against students’ actual work through site visits or group moderations, it would be possible to have more confidence in those estimated grades.
This last is not just an academic point – we may well have a disrupted education system through the next year as it is increasingly clear that the virus is not under control. DfE should be planning for this now not just sticking its head in the sand and pretending all will be well.
But there remains the question of what to do now if the issues revealed tomorrow are anything like those in Scotland. There is likely to be no perfect solution so we need to ask ourselves which way forward would be least damaging.
In that case, it has to be that downgrading some students unfairly (especially from disadvantaged areas) is a greater harm that using teacher predictions and allowing substantial grade inflation for one year. Addressing the specific harm to individuals must trump the problems posed for the system as a whole by over generous results in some cases.
One way of getting there would be an open, generous and rapid appeal system that allowed students to present evidence of their actual achievement not just of procedural failings. Depending on the scale of the problems to be revealed tomorrow …. and next week at GCSE…. this may well be simply unmanageable in the time available.
That would leave the Scottish solution – bite the bullet and accept teacher grades and leave it to universities and employers to sort things out.
No one should pretend this would be a good outcome. But it may well be the least damaging given the mess that this government has got us in. And above all we must remember two things:
- We did not need to be here and it is a huge failing of government that we are
- We must not be back here in a year’s time facing the same problems
- We need to restore a much broader approach to assessment so that students build a portfolio of results throughout the course