Reflections on… an exam system that could never be the same again

The recent cancellation of GCSE and A Level exams in the UK marks what I think is the largest shock to the examination and education system in this country in many years. Without any significant expertise, I think this is probably the first time since the Second World War that the UK has not run summer examinations, and while other countries have done it sporadically, it’s all new to us.

At the time of writing, the government’s advice on what replaces these examinations is not yet with us, and we frankly don’t know the details of the form of ‘teacher judgement’ and ‘school based data’ that will be used to inform the considered grades for our students this summer.

But set that aside for a moment.

If you had a veil of ignorance, and wanted to design a 16/18 examination system that was more reliable and less open to shocks, what would you do? This would help for future global pandemics (!) but also cases where students are unable to sit their final exams, for instance, which is much more common. Here are some of my ideas.

  1. Bring back AS Levels. Speaking personally, I think this is one of the biggest mistakes of recent education policy shifts. I understand the fears over ‘gaming’ the system, and the variations between Jan/Jun/second/third entries – but I think there are ways we can solve that without throwing out baby and bathwater. AS Levels offered students a chance to get a meaningful qualification out of a single year’s study. It offered realistic, exam board controlled understanding of progress. It offered solid and reliable data for universities to assess performance and potential. Bring them back!

2. Could you do the same for GCSEs? Would you? Split the courses in to ‘end of Year 10’ and the second year? Do away with the vast challenges of two year, huge content courses? Do away with a set of school-judged mock exams, and interim processes, and have simpler course content, and give people the opportunity for proper judgements ahead of e.g. Sixth Form applications? Would you take this as an opportunity to reduce the completely imbalanced sixth term in the two years – cut out the significantly wasted time at the end of the course.

3. Alternatively, should all exam boards provide a standardized ‘mock exam’ that all schools are required to take within a certain window? It wouldn’t have to be externally marked, but like a coursework exercise, it could have a moderated sample sent off so that people have a sense of how the school is marking. This would hugely help schools, who may not have examiner experience, to understand  One of the issues here has been that there are no standard sets of data that exist before the actual GCSE – schools with rapidly changing performance, or who don’t do FFT/MiDYIS data etc. will have no way of describing cohort standards. This might help.

4. Require a professionally judged “predicted grade” to be submitted to the exam board by e.g. the end of the Spring Term. This would be a fall back position, if nothing else!

What do you think? Worth exploring? What else could we consider or do? What would you *like* to do in an ideal world?


2 thoughts on “Reflections on… an exam system that could never be the same again

  1. In my subject of English, and many others, a modular system would work brilliantly. By sitting a paper after having studied a text, rather than trying to remember something after 2 years, makes perfect sense.


  2. Pingback: Falling behind, ventilation, reports and masks - Teacher Tapp

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