As I am sure you all know too well, this year the whole process of “grading” at the moment is a little bit up in the air. This is due to the pandemic, meaning that students weren’t able to be in school for quite a few months, and therefore they would not have been able to do exams either. Now this means that the grades which are distributed to students aren’t going to be entirely fair, as the act of getting teachers to rank their class from top to bottom is always going to be subjective. Furthermore there are always going to be students who didn’t work during mocks, so there’s going to be those who would have been capable of achieving much more than what their mock result showed. While it does not help that some teachers simply have favorites while we cannot overlook issues like discrimination plus many other potential problems which will arise. And lets face it; however hard teachers try to reduce some of these problems, which I am sure that they will do, it is still going to be far from ideal… However is the process of giving students two or three exams, based on two or three years of work for that subject, really a much better way of grading students? Well there is no room for the teacher to play any role in bias because, these are marked externally. However these are pretty much wholly dependent on how well the student performs on the day, therefore many issues can conflict with this. Plus the ability to perform well in a GCSE paper, is often based on the student’s performance on the day (as well as their short term memory!), rather than their understanding and dedication to the subject.
So thinking about these flaws, whether you think that using pretty much exams alone to assess 16 year old’s is the best way to do so or not, the new hierarchy system to assess teens has done nothing to reduce these. In-fact it has made the process of taking exams more stressful than ever, for both the students and the teachers- and there really isn’t any need for it…
So to begin with, the decision to replace the initial “C” with a 4 which corresponds to a “low C” and a 5 which is meant to be somewhere between a C and a B, just seems rather silly. When initially a C was simply a pass… But now I feel that the new 4 and 5 correspond to a “strong” and “weak” pass meaning that students will feel that they’re not good enough if they only get a 4. Even though a 4 actually represents the two lowest thirds of the initial C, meaning that students are now generally going to feel the need to work even harder; in order that they receive a grade which they “feel good about”. This can subsequently lead to lower self esteem when the student thinks that they may only be able to get a 4, as well as higher stress. Furthermore this isn’t just the case under student’s eyes however we have seen “schools agonizing over whether kids are getting 4s or 5s”. Because the government too now assesses schools over a strong and standard pass rate. Which means that teachers will be spending more time worrying about and focusing on this, rather than focusing their energy on ensuring that as many students who can pass do so. This extra burden on the teachers will also be passed onto students meaning students will be under more pressure than ever. Now this surely messes things up, as in reality we all know that most students lack the fundamental “life skills” as well as gaps in potentially essential knowledge, so would it not be better if schools were able to help students in these areas, rather than encouraging teachers to spend more time going over the same GCSE content?
Now from the 4 and the 5, there is a 6 is meant to be about the same as a B; meanwhile the 7, 8 and 9 are all meant to be of some kind of an A. Here a 7 is attributed to the standard A, an 8 being well- close to an “A star” but not quite there, and a 9 being like the A**. Now this might sound good, when we think of the number of students achieving As, and the fact that there seemed to have been a kind of “grade deflation” going on, meaning that an A was of less value than it had been say 15 years ago. And while the grade boundaries could have just been altered so this wouldn’t have been the case any longer, or just ensure that the questions are slightly harder, there still might be a large range of abilities amongst the current A star students. So we should welcome the fact that universities will be able to distinguish more between this high end group! But is this not something which should occur at A level and beyond? Rather than having students feel that they need an A level standard of understanding of the subject, before they actually go on to take it at A level?? This way the new means of assessing GCSE students seems pretty pointless, considering the scope for students to show their enthusiasm throughout this period of time, by working hard throughout the course, partaking in extra curricular activities as well as further reading. This way, the whole thing seems a bit silly when universities have been known to assess students on their actual enthusiasm as well as their personal attributes? But lets face it, at least now schools have the opportunity to boast about the number of 9s students! Meaning that schools will be focusing more of their energy on helping the “very best” students, rather than ensuring that everyone can achieve what they are capable of. This way, this could potentially hinder the number of students who feel that they have the opportunity to attend a top university, as those places will now be judging upon the top GCSE as well as A level grades. While many students would have to relay upon tutoring, going to a good school, or an excellent memory in this stage of their education. Would it not be better if universities just dedicated their places based on enthusiasm, and love of the subject. Rather than implying that numbers and letters are the most credible thing? Leading on, this is going to inevitably have a catastrophic effect on the mental health of all students (well it has done so already). And even head teachers have backed this up with “Nine in 10 heads say tougher new GCSEs have harmed pupils’ mental health” states a poll published by the Association of School and College Leaders.
And another issue I have with this romanized prospect of achieving the incredible 9, is that it means some of the exam papers are going to be ridiculous. Thinking back on taking the GCSE higher maths paper, I remember looking at the grade boundaries and realizing how stupid they were. With only needing to get scarcely above 50% to achieve a 7, or an A in the old money, the rest of the paper was filled with content which looked pretty alien to any functional being… Yet this also means that the teacher of the subject is spending more time teaching the top content, rather than ensuring that everyone has a decent understanding, to get the grade which they deserve.
It also seems a little bit strange that I have taken the decision to do another post on the 9-1 GCSE system, when literally last year, having just got my results, I chose to write a blog post about it . But at that time it would only be natural for me to be disagreeing with the examination system, simply because it was so recent as to when I had been through the seemingly painful process of receiving my results.
Looking back on taking GCSE’s, I cannot say that I was more stressed about taking the exams when I had just as much time before taking these exams, as I do with A-Levels. Simply because I know and I knew then that A-levels go much further in determining where you end up. Or in other words, which universities may or may not be open to you. When thinking about it this way, we can see how A levels may be seen as being important, however there are many ways of achieving something, and a top university isn’t necessarily going to determine how successful your career will be, and it certainly won’t determine how fulfilling you might find it. Then put this into perspective with GCSE’s. In a way these are similar, in that they act as a bit of a gateway as to which 6th form collages you might be able to enter, and which ones that you may be prevented from. But likewise it is not the end of the world if you don’t manage to get into a certain one, plus I would argue that it would be completely unfair for a school to turn you down if they knew that you were a dedicated student.
Another thing is that if you happened to take GCSEs before the system changed, or if you know someone who has done so, I am sure that you can relate to the fact that much of what you learn is forgotten. Meanwhile like mentioned earlier, I am sure that there are things which you wished you learned at school, but you didn’t. Therefore would it not make more sense to reform GCSEs in a way so that students are able to learn more things of use to them and to wider society, as opposed to getting them to do an increased amount of work that will be forgotten meaning there is even less time available for learning anything of use… Saying this, I believe that it is extremely important to teach all students reading, writing and arithmetic (as well as science) because knowledge and skills learned about these subjects are crucial in pretty much all occupants and well- there are so many careers relating to these topics. Nonetheless we always need to be able to draw a line with these things, and I think that teaching students stuff which they would otherwise be learning if they chose to take the A level in a years time is a bit of a push.
Finally from the way that this has such a terrific impact on young people’s mental health, how it makes it harder for teachers to focus on helping all students achieve their potential and how it is simply unproductive, I really struggle to come to terms with how this new system could be of an improvement at all. While I struggle to understand why this was reverted to the way that it is, and I really cannot see how this can be of any benefit. And the more that I think about it, the more damaging I think it to be, harming the mental health off students as well as being, well really a bit off a waste of time.