As a result of wide scale opposition – from Tory MPs to the National Education Union; not to mention the spontaneous protests by young people – the Westminster government, fearing another fiasco when GCSE results are published on Thursday, has followed its more astute Scottish counterparts and will allow A-level grades to be based on teacher recommendations – if they are higher.
Yet almost all who have called for teacher assessment regard it as a temporary solution to this year’s crisis, or at least a holding operation till it’s possible to revert back to ‘proper’ exams. It’s considered that the ‘grade inflation’ – the number of top grades could increase by up to 15% – due to some teachers ‘over marking’, will be worth running with, even if Russell universities are now faced with too many students (!) Most important, it will go some way to restoring faith in education after the gross inequalities generated by Ofqual’s algorithm.
But with growing numbers of commentators and activists arguing that rather than returning to economy and society pre-Covid, we must ‘build back better’, why can’t a more general form of teacher assessment – properly moderated by teachers, not manipulated by government, be at the centre of a new system?
The previous post focused on the way in which during exam results have been based on ‘comparative outcomes’ – in otherwords, performance levels have been deliberately kept in line with the results of the previous year, so as to ‘maintain standards’. As a result, we have summative assessment, where the value of an exam pass is as much about ranking a student against other members of the cohort as it is assessing what they know, understand, or can do.
Rather than a ‘learning society’ in which students develop intellectually and socially for a variety of roles, we are stuck with a ‘credentialised’ or ‘certified’ one, where those students squeezed out from the high grades necessary to access elite universities that lead to (a diminishing supply of) top jobs, still have to pile up qualifications to ensure they don’t end up in ‘precariat’ work.
As a consequence, a ‘fair’, ‘open’, but also a standardised and centralised exam system is deemed necessary to legitimise this contest, allowing universities and employers to filter students on ‘merit’ but also to maintain ‘public confidence’ A different sort of assessment is both possible and certainly desirable, but it’s going to be easier to demand if, instead of the current free for all, there are other changes and better policies for young people making the transition to adulthood.