ASCL comment on GCSE results day

20/08/2020
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders comments on the GCSE results awarded to students today. 
 
Commenting on the GCSE results awarded to students today, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

Congratulations to students on their GCSE results and to their teachers. These have been extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and this generation of young people has suffered a degree of uncertainty and disruption that is without precedent. They lost out on the normal rites of passage of leaving school, and on the chance to show what they could do in a set of exams. 

And they must have been watching the news anxiously following last week’s A-level results to see if they were going to lose out again because a computer algorithm might downgrade them – before the government and Ofqual performed a U-turn and reverted to centre-assessed grades.

In the circumstances, this was the only viable option. But we have to know why the problems with the algorithm were not foreseen, what steps were taken to test whether it was fit for purpose, and why Ofqual and ministers were not on top of this. For this reason we have called for an immediate independent inquiry to be conducted to rapidly ascertain what went wrong. We think it is the least our students deserve.

“If we’ve learned anything from this sorry saga, it is surely that our education system has become far too obsessed with statistics. In many ways, the debacle over standardisation is the logical conclusion – the idea that the entire grading system could be mirrored by the application of a statistical model. In truth, there is a statistical conundrum every year. We have fixed in aspic the distribution of grades, and every year we consign a proportion of young people to leaving school feeling that they have fallen short. 

This year more students will receive higher grades because of the decision to revert to centre-assessed grades. But this is by accident rather than by design. In the longer term, we have to think again about our statistics-fixated system. We have to do better.

Another lesson for the longer term, is that we must surely reduce our reliance on a massive national bout of terminal exams each summer. There was nothing to fall back on in this crisis, unprecedented though it was, and the government still doesn’t have a contingency plan in the event of disruption next year. But it goes beyond that. In the digital age, we treat a system that is rooted in the 1950s as an article of faith. We simply must revolutionise assessment, utilise technology and provide a variety of assessment approaches.

“Finally, let’s remind ourselves this was a situation like no other. I have been hugely impressed by the painstaking care that leaders and teachers have taken over centre-assessed grades, the determination to get it right on behalf of students. 

The profession rose to the challenge admirably. It was events beyond our control that sunk the standardisation model. Schools and colleges have once again been left to clear up the mess.