Grading process caused ‘anxiety’ and ‘a lot of extra work’, say senior leaders

School leaders have commented on the “anxiety” and amount of “extra work” that resulted from teacher assessed grades, which are being submitted today

Leaders in independent schools have commented on the “anxiety” and amount of “extra work” that resulted from this year’s teacher-assessed grades, which are being submitted today.

In February it was announced that, due to cancelled exams, students would be awarded grades by teachers.

Dr Philip Purvis, deputy head (academic) at Croydon High School, London, said this caused anxiety for many pupils: “In response to the guidance which stipulated that the grading process should be objective, consistent and fair, it is perhaps no surprise that many schools retreated to the familiarity of high-stakes summative assessment.

“In practice, though, this meant that many pupils sat more examinations (often restyled as ‘lower-stakes’ assessments) over a shorter amount of time and much earlier than they would have done ordinarily. Moreover, this approach undoubtedly caused anxiety amongst pupils up and down the country as they sought – at once – to look behind them to past performance, and ahead to assessments to come.”

Simon Dorman, headmaster at Monmouth School for Boys, Wales, commented on the impact on staff: “Clearly, the whole process of setting, invigilating, administering, marking and moderating has created a lot of extra work for our teaching and support staff in addition to their existing roles.

“It has meant a lot of marking for teaching colleagues, moderating in departments and a very busy time for our two deputy heads academic, liaising with heads of department, to standardise grades before the final grades were agreed.”

It remains to be seen just how much examination boards want to enter into a ‘back and forth’ with schools over grades over the next few weeks – Dr Philip Purvis, Croydon High School

Purvis said he has concerns about what will happen next now that grades have been handed over to exam boards: “I am extremely confident that my school has followed a thorough assessment, moderation, and standardisation process which has allowed pupils to demonstrate their considerable academic acumen in a way that stands up to scrutiny. 

“However, I am less confident about the processes to come which may impact the results that schools have put forward in good faith. 

“It remains to be seen just how much examination boards want to enter into a ‘back and forth’ with schools over grades over the next few weeks. Will their ambitions be tempered by a lack of resource?”

Dr Philip Purvis, deputy head (academic) at Croydon High School

 

Grade inflation

In 2020 there was significant grade inflation following the government’s decision to ditch Ofqual’s algorithm and use teacher-assessed grades. 

Purvis said it is likely we are heading for much higher levels of grade inflation than predicted.

He said: “Back in March, Ofqual promised that there would not be ‘Weimar levels’ of inflated GCSE and A-level grades this year. However, given most schools took a modular approach to assessment, and that the additional assessment materials – including some mark schemes – were put in the public domain, I cannot help but think that we are heading for much higher levels of grade inflation than predicted. 

“Time will tell us how educational institutions (universities who over-offer places, in particular), regulators and politicians seek to respond.”

Simon Dorman, headmaster at Monmouth School for Boys

 

Dorman said staff will likely feel more in the “firing line” on results day this year, with the appeals process bound to put even more pressure on staff.

He said: “There will undoubtedly be a number of appeals, and this will create an extra, and not entirely welcome, administrative burden, but overall, we know that our students will be getting a very fair set of results, which will represent the hard work and perseverance they have shown in this most challenging of academic years.”

A-level results come out on 10 August and GCSEs on 12 August, with the dates being brought forward to ensure enough time for appeals.

Dorman reflected on how students at Monmouth sit a mixture of England and Wales board exams. “This creates an interesting disparity, as WJEC mandates that students are told their provisional results before they are submitted in June, whereas grades for the English exam boards may not be revealed to students before results days.”

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