Surprise surprise, Wales has announced it will be scrapping GCSE exams in 2021, following Scotland which had already said it would not hold National exams this academic year. In what must be one of the most ridiculous decisions made by Government during this pandemic, both England are Northern Ireland are doggedly insisting they will hold GCSE exams.
Some would say it’s defeatist to give in, scrap the exams and go with teacher assessments for the second year in a row. Is such an approach defeatist or is it realistic?
It’s easy to overlook how much youngsters’ education has been disrupted during the pandemic. COVID-19 totally screwed up the 2019/20 academic year. We’re now well into the 2020/21 academic year and the disruption continues.
My oldest daughter’s school makes for a superb example of just how severe this disruption can be. The Year 11 kids (Year 11 being the main GCSE year) have been sent home to self-isolate not once, but twice since September. That’s one entire month of face-to-face schooling they’ve missed. That’s on top of the schooling they missed in the previous academic year.
That’s just the Year11s. Other bubbles at both my daughters’ schools have been sent home to self-isolate. In fact, I don’t know of a school in my locality that hasn’t had to ask class or year group bubbles to stay away. Multiply that across England and missed face-to-face schooling must be rife across the region.
Is it fair to expect school pupils in Years 10-13 to sit exams in these circumstances? They must surely be at a serious disadvantage.
Teacher assessments are not ideal, but they’ve got to be a better option when faced with a global health pandemic. The last thing the education system needs is the pressure of GCSE exams in the summer of 2021. If assessments were used instead of exams, teachers could concentrate on teaching and help students catch up on lost learning.
Students are also having a very weird school experience at this point in time. Kids have to socially distance, they have to wear facemasks and practically taught subjects like science are often being taught without the practical element. All of this is likely to hit confidence and youngsters’ ability to learn.
Regardless of what happens, this whole experience has highlighted an absolutely ginormous fault within the English school system. Following years of questionably-managed reform, the system has become almost entirely exam based. We’ve been just been given a brutal demonstration as to how quickly an exam-based system can fall apart.
If GCSEs and A-Levels were awarded on the basis of coursework, teacher assessment and exams, we wouldn’t have had half the problems or complications that happened last summer. Exams have a place in the education system, but the system we presently have places too much importance on them and it clearly needs to change.
Whatever happens in the coming months, young people’s futures are being messed with through no fault of their own. To pressure English and Northern Irish youngsters to sit exams this coming summer seems desperately unfair. As I said at the start, it’s not defeatist, it’s realistic.