COVID-19. The raging fire that swiftly caused the world to come to a staggering halt. It’s something which had an impact on every area of society, including education. It caused a sudden pause into teaching and impacted many students across the nation.
The feeling of elation when discovering that we didn’t have to drag ourselves out of bed in the mornings to go and learn huge amounts of content, the relief of not having to revise for hours on end, along with the relief of the exams’ cancellation was swiftly replaced with anxiety as uncertainty grew around the circumstances of how grades were going to be awarded.
There were no questions that were answered that did anything to quell the stirring of doubt that bubbled in the brains of many teenagers, like myself, across the country. There were many attempts to dull this down, including announcements that gave insight into how grades would be awarded (from having teachers base grades on classwork, coursework, and past performance in prior exams). There was no mention of anything else that would lurk its head, which came in the form of the subsequent problems that certain people would face.
There are inevitably three contributing factors that will lead to the problem of teacher assessment and using predicted grades to assess a potential grade for students this year (Uthmani, 2020):
- Teacher bias,
- The lack of diversity in the teaching profession,
- The lack of family engagement.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students, as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds have the most to lose from this government declaration. There seems to be an implicit form of detriment from stereotypes that are ever present within education, so that the predicted grades of these students may be lower than they should be – only for the prediction to be surpassed in the exam. However, students from white middle class families benefit from these predicted grades; parents are willing to argue the case of the grade on their child’s behalf.
Amongst nearly all groups, girls do better than boys. Similarly, the middle-class do better than the working-class. White pupils’ achievement is very close to the national average, who area the largest group (accounting for 4/5ths of all pupils). Hastings suggested that white students make less progress between age 11-16 than Black or Asian pupils (Hastings, n.d.). These statistics can further reinforce the underachievement of certain ethnic minority groups (notably people that are Black Caribbean with the percentage of people passing their GCSE with a grade 5 or above being 26.9%, in comparison to their White British peers (42.7%) (Anon., 2019)), which can create a vicious cycle.
If the system is telling a child that they are bound to underachieve, this can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, wherein a student absorbs this and then accepts this as their fate- thereby reinforcing the stereotype. This can be dangerous.
It’s not a surprise to hear that some students, including myself, don’t perform at their best when it comes to classwork and mock exams. That can be due to a number of things however, knowing that I have the exam to showcase my ability has been something in which I have always relied on – and thus has proven to be successful in past years, and my results prove that. Therefore, the cancellation of exams this year wasn’t something that, upon reflection, was something to be pleased with.
It seems that bright students who perform best in exams or haven’t performed well in recent years are at a disadvantage here, too. I don’t believe that statistics are a true reflection of people, due to the fact that they are objective. People, however, are not, and are usually not representative of numerical value (despite how much of it drowns us in education.) We aren’t reflective of numbers or graphs; thus, it is unfair to assume that based on a school’s past grades holistically doesn’t speak for the individuals who is not represented by their ability, but instead their circumstance.
However, there are options available if the grades are not perceived to be a true reflection of a student’s ability. If any of us happen to be dissatisfied, schools and colleges can appeal on a students’ behalf against the process or the use of data, not against teachers’ use of their professional judgement. In addition, there is an opportunity to take an exam in the autumn, with the AS and A-Level exams taking place in October; the GCSE’s being held in November.
Therefore, it seems that there is a rainbow after this drudging storm. But when will the storm end?
Anon., 2019. Skyline NATIONAL BLACK CARIBBEAN FACTS & FIGURES. [Online]
Available at: https://www.skylineradio.org.uk/index.php/2019/07/26/national-black-caribbean-facts-figures/
Hastings, S., n.d. [Online]
Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/white-underachievement
Uthmani, N., 2020. tes. [Online]
Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/how-do-we-ensure-fair-grades-bame-students