An exam chill

End of year assessments are strange beasts in these abnormal times.

Teachers are expected to assess the ability of students for the year to come, including indicating whether they are on track to achieve their GCSE target grade, a target set on the basis of their SATS score in Year 6.  To  object to the notion of targets is to invite the response that the targets are an accurate predictor of GCSE results. Maybe so, but that is because they seem self-fulfilling prophecies, students work at the level to which they have been assigned.

Schools pay great attention to the targets because it is upon such arbitrary figures that they are assessed. The Progress 8 score derived from the results will be published online, reported in the media, and help shape public perception of the school. To point to qualities like courtesy, hard work and honesty is to invite the dismissal that such things cannot be measured so cannot count towards government statistics.

The year that is past has been difficult, most difficult for those whose home environment is not conducive to study and those whose access to the Internet is less than ideal. How does one devise an assessment adequate to the purpose of reviewing a year filled with holes for most and gaping chasms for some?

Sitting at the front of a science laboratory to supervise an assessment of a lower attainment set, there is a feeling of a chill sensed more than forty years ago.

An analogue clock is inadequate to the task of telling them how much time they have. An online digital timer is projected onto the screen: it is the only format of time that many of them will know.

The science papers are stapled into a booklet, there is a stern formality in the printing and presentation of the questions. Such a format is necessary to help the students prepare to prepare for the reality of the GCSE examinations they face in ten months’ time.

There is an unaccustomed silence in the room. Shouts from the PE teacher supervising athletics training are audible. From a laboratory next door, the lesson on light can be easily followed by anyone not focused upon the paper in front of them.

It is a strange way of preparing fifteen year olds for life. Perhaps formal academic examinations are appropriate for higher attainment students, but for those who would never wish for a university education, they seem an odd way of doing things,

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