Cancellation of exams could prompt debate, says Gresham’s head

The independent school head said coronavirus has forced Britain to ‘think beyond the constraints’ of how it’s always done exams

The headmaster of an independent school in Norfolk has said if the cancellation of exams prompts debate about how assessment is carried out, it could be a “silver lining on what’s been a pretty dark cloud”.

This year’s summer exams, including A-levels, GCSEs and other qualifications, have been cancelled in the country’s fight to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Ofqual is currently setting out a process for schools that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible.

Douglas Robb, headmaster of Gresham’s School, told Independent Education Today: “If we go through an exam cohort, as we are now, without terminal examinations and the kids go on to university and can be successful, it might actually bring into question the whole idea of terminal assessment.

“Some students are good at exams, so a terminal assessment really suits them, and other pupils really struggle. So, if this prompts debate and conversation about that, it might be a silver lining on what’s been a pretty dark cloud.”

Robb said trusting teachers to be professional to mark work appropriately was a good option, and he didn’t think teachers would be “cynical enough” to award all of their students top marks.

“I hated modular exams, I thought they were absolutely hopeless. Allowing kids to resit again and again was not good either, and no one really likes coursework particularly,” Robb said of the current exam system.

If we go through an exam cohort, as we are now, without terminal examinations and the kids go on to university and can be successful, it might actually bring into question the whole idea of terminal assessment

He looked to other countries for better assessment models. “We might end up with a slightly more American scheme of grade point averages and a simple SAT test,” he said.

“I have a colleague who has moved to Canada and in their final year they have their college places about three months before they finish school. We’ve always written that off and said, ‘what a load of nonsense’, but he absolutely loves it. He thinks it’s really releasing for the children.

“They can enjoy their final three months and it ends up a really positive experience rather than the tension, stress and turmoil of terminal examinations, followed by deciding which university to go to and the scramble of clearing.”

He added: “I think what is interesting is it forces Britain to think beyond the constraints of the way it’s always done exams. If it makes them think there might be another way of doing this or there might be a way of blending what we do with what other countries do, then that could be a positive.”

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