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Evening Standard Comment: Children the losers as Boris to blame for exams farce

Evening Standard Comment
·2-min read
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Children the losers as Boris to blame for exams farce

Pity our students who would, in happier times, be sitting GCSEs and A-levels this summer. Instead, they face confusion and uncertainty as their schools decide which option they will use to determine their grades.

Will it be coursework set over the year? Mini-exams? Their teachers’ general impression of their ability, backed by homework? Or will it be sitting exams approximating to normal ones set by the exam boards and marked by teachers?

After Gavin Williamson’s announcement today of what will replace normal exams, no one really knows. The probability is that there will be absolutely no uniformity among schools. The certainty is that there will be a blizzard of appeals.

Small wonder the chaos is playing havoc with pupils’ mental health. Pity too, the universities and employers which must decide how much weight to set by these results.

The rational approach would be to treat them with reserve. Universities in particular should consider interviews to assess candidates independently.

And pity the teachers, who face the unlovely task of determining their pupils’ futures in this way. It will add a formidable burden to their work, which should be about preparing pupils for exams, not setting and marking them.

Most teachers will try to judge their pupils fairly but it would only be human if some were predisposed against unruly students. And it would be disingenuous to imagine that none will be tempted to be liberal in marking their own cards — and their school’s.

Many will base assessments on their students’ work over the last two years, done mostly from home, in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. This approach may work for students who perform consistently well over time, but for others it will be wildly unfair.

The fairest option, then, is for schools to accept the exams set by the boards and oblige students to sit them under exam conditions in school — certainly not at home, where parents might help.

The results would be marked by teachers, but they can take children’s circumstances into account in modifying results that seem unfair. This would allow appeals to be based on some objective basis.

The infuriating aspect of all this is that at least some of the chaos was avoidable if the Government had planned for this predictable — and predicted — problem last September.

It could have stress-tested different scenarios or, better still, announced in that autumn what children should expect in the knowledge that huge disruption was inevitable, rather than waiting until the last minute. Boris and his boosterism got us to this point, not just the pandemic — he refused to consider children might go home again.

After the chaos of last year, the Government should have learned useful lessons. It didn’t, and children are the losers.