If a very bright student has a collection of A and A* results at A level or 8s and 9s at GCSE, does that mean they’ve done exceptionally well? If a struggling student performing at grade 3 turns out a 4 or 5 in a subject they find difficult, isn’t this exceptional too?
Most tutors take students who are struggling in one way or another. We hear parents saying ‘… she has fallen behind,’ ‘he really struggles with creative writing,’ or ‘he is not reaching his target grade.’ Few of us will be asked to help a high-achieving student.
Interestingly though, I was consulted by one parent whose daughter was achieving As and was not happy because her friends were getting A*s. When I saw her super work, I suggested she take more care with apostrophes and spelling. A fine-tuning expedition for me. But these instances are rare.
This year my GCSE students have achieved 5s, 6s and one a 7 in English language. They have all actually achieved the level I thought they would over time in exams. These results come from 2 years of quite intense tutoring: the grade 7 is a mild dyslexic, the grade 6 suffers from Meares Irlen, the grade 5 was told he just didn’t write enough. The results also come in a period of difficulty in online learning from schools during the lockdown.
This year’s results for GCSE students are said by some to be inflated because teachers have been ‘soft’ markers in their assessment of student performance. Teachers want the best results for their students, and the schools want the best results for their ‘league tables’. I’m sure it’s also true that teachers wanted to get an honest outcome.
In past years of ‘normal’ teaching and exams, students often had study leave after Easter (frequently at home) and a few revision lessons where timetabling permitted, leading to an exam on an allotted day – which was not necessarily a good day for the student who might be suffering from exam nerves, a summer cold or hay fever, for example.
This year, my students were kept in school on a normal timetable and were given revision classes, ‘mocks’, ‘tasks’, tests and two sets of classroom exams in a more comprehensive range of material, all of which would serve to help the teacher arrive at a ‘teacher-assessment grade’.
Lots of different pieces of work were assessed over a longer period of time so that teachers could form a balanced view. Students have been learning more and showing what they know and understand more. Traditional exams might have been easier for some students, enjoying the relaxed revision time and a short examination but this year’s style has in my view strengthened the students’ learning and provided them with a solid base for further study.
So, to those who say this year’s results are inflated – think again. Think of the work done by schools (and tutors) and the depth of student learning, to arrive at these results. It could be the way forward.
And since I started drafting this blog, the debate among academics and politicians has begun.