The English Subject Associations’ view of the 2021 GCSE Examinations

Posted by rsl11 at Nov 05, 2020 05:43 PM |
Joint statement by NATE, EA and NAAE

The examination crisis of 2020 was part of an unprecedented wider national crisis caused by Covid19, that would have challenged the best of Governments and institutions. However, it was exacerbated by a lack of planning, an over-reliance on late and flawed emergency measures and a failure to predict the likely results of unfairness and loss of confidence by academics, professionals, parents and students. The 2021 examinations, whatever their nature, must not be compromised by similar errors. Planning is essential, now, though now is itself alarmingly late: there are, in effect, two terms left before another 650,000 GCSE students come to a crucial milestone in their lives.

The main flaw in the events of 2020 was obvious – the lack of an evidence base for secure judgements of attainment. Instead, the predictable flaws of trusting a crude algorithm based on previous student attainment were seen too late, leading to a sudden reluctant reliance on centre assessment, which proved to be inconsistent and generally lenient.   The inconsistency and leniency were, emphatically, not a result of schools’ incompetence or manipulation. They were the result of applying a flawed centre-assessment model too late for its principles and methods to be professionally understood and applied. This was a particular failure to understand the unreliability of “mocks” as an evidence base because of differences in how they selected what was to be assessed, how and when they were set, and how they were marked and moderated in different schools.

There can be no excuse after last year for ignorance about assessment or for thinking teachers incapable of making fair and reliable assessments when properly prepared. NATE, the EA and the NAAE believe that what is fundamental to a more successful outcome in 2021 is a) preparation of evidence of students’ performance, and b) preparation, support and moderation of schools’ assessment of performance.

There are wider curriculum issues here, but NATE’s particular concern is for teaching and learning in GCSE Literature. NATE, the EA and the NAAE support the Ofqual-recommended reduction of assessed content in GCSE Literature, and would also support greater freedom of choice for schools to select which component to omit from exam preparation. It would, additionally, support the development of flexibility in questioning strategy, including generic questions as well as text-specific questions. What matters is that teachers have confidence in what they will be doing in the next two terms; that students and parents have confidence in what they are doing; and that HE/FE institutions and employers have confidence in the Awards outcomes. The English subject associations note that Universities are making clear that they would prefer evidence that students have developed secure content and methods in their learning, rather than dubious Awards outcomes. If schools are given time and support for a centre-assessed component to provide an evidence base for 2021 awards, there will be many reasons for seeing an emergency expedient as a route to something educationally worthwhile.

There may be political (rather than educational) reasons for not calling centre-assessed work “coursework” or “controlled assessment” but it is not impossible to conjure a term that sits between the binaries of For and Against. “Centre-assessed study component” is one possibility. “Standardised school assessment” is another.

NATE, the EA and the NAAE strongly opposes any suggestion of a national “mock” exam to be run under standard formal exam conditions according to sample papers and questions provided by the Awarding Bodies. The very nature of this nationally standard format and AB input would be to make the “mock” a real exam, and one for which teachers would substitute exam practice for paced and incremental learning, even earlier than for a June exam. Such a proposal would disrupt the progress currently being made to stability to revive an already disrupted teaching and learning cycle.

NATE, the EA and the NAAE propose the availability of a list of short tasks (about an hour) based on the four components of GCSE Literature, with schools able to choose one or two from the list, each being weighted at 10% or 15% of the total mark-share. The lists would be an equal mix of generic and text-specific questions capable of being answered within a single lesson. The crucial feature of these school-assessed tasks would be a strong (“robust” is a politically favoured word) sample moderation system, something Awarding Bodies have operated in the past. To avoid the sense of an additional workload and complex organisation, some centre-assessed tasks could be responses to a range of pre-released (preferably, a week) materials. AQA (NEAB) ran a very successful assessment model in the 90s based on generic tasks that schools (candidates, even) could adapt to a chosen text. Edexcel iGCSE features a pre-release model. This proposal would be welcome to those teachers recently outraged by proposals to make X or Y component compulsory/optional. If a maximum of two of these units were completed (with perhaps provision to repeat one) it could avoid the likely repeated confusion and dissatisfaction concerning grade inflation and algorithmic unfairness.

The Associations represented in this statement consider that this proposal would be a service to teachers in CPD and acknowledged professionalism, a service to students in promoting agency in their own future, and a service to literary education as something developmental rather than memorised. It would also be a service to parents, employers and Further and Higher Education. Something educationally positive could emerge from the ravages of the pandemic and political confusion.

Peter Thomas, Chair, NATE

Rebecca Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, EA

Nikki Copitch, Secretary & Publicity Officer, NAAE

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