The Forgotten Years?

I remember my exam results’ day very vividly. A quiet car journey filled with expectation, a soulless school hall with rows of brown envelopes and then the celebrations or commiserations amongst friends. This experience, whilst unremarkable, is shared in a range of guises, and I’m sure you have a similar memory of it. It was a rite of passage, it closed the door on a certain stage of my education and provided a gateway to the next. Bottom line - I felt like I earned those grades; I was examined for them and I got what I deserved.

Unfortunately, many current students won’t have the same experience to cherish and remember proudly. Year 11 and 13 of the class of 2020 did not sit their exams and this will also be the case for the exam years of 2021. This is tragic and quite rightly those students deserve both our empathy and sympathy.

But it is also our role as educators to not dwell there. We need to consider the unique experience of those who have started their new qualifications this year. Of course every year group has been affected but none more so than the current year 12s and year 10s.

The new academic year brought fresh hope for these year groups, but the pandemic has continued to do much to undermine this. Students and staff constantly hamstrung by bubbles being sent home alongside illness and infection has hardly been a conducive atmosphere for high level learning.

Our attention quite rightly has been focused on exam year groups but it will serve us well to not forget those that are more likely to see a return to a more traditional exam series in 2021.

Transition to a New Course

Year 12 did not sit their GCSE exams last year and, whilst outside of education many friends have said to me as a teacher “Your kids must have been delighted to have got away without exams!”,  I can honestly and unequivocally say that was not the case in my last school. Every student wanted the opportunity to prove themselves, to show their families, supporters and doubters their capabilities, they wanted  to show how good they could be and that was denied to them.

Year 10 in all likelihood opted for their GCSEs in a remote manner at the end of key stage 3 as we all adapted to the changes brought on due to the pandemic. The transition to GCSE would have been largely muted and more focus would have been placed on the years above, leaving some of them feeling like they have not received the same attention. Their start to key stage 4 would have been muted amongst the rush to get the year 11s up to speed and overshadowed by the burden of social distancing measures, which in turn impacted classroom teaching.

What does that mean going forward?

Firstly it is imperative that we understand the exact position of the year 10 and 12 pupils. In this most disjointed of years it is vital that we identify the learning gaps so that we can close them. Using AfL and any data to identify the position of each student showing areas of weakness and absence is essential. For those in year 10 and 12 it has never been more important than now that teachers are able to assess what has/hasn’t been learnt to maximise teaching time online and once we return to the classroom.

Find out about Grant-Enabled Access

Online learning needs to be targeted to prepare students for an exam series in 2022 (see How to Increase Student Engagement with Online Learning). In lessons focusing on an exam skill or particular element of a course, showing students how an improvement in that area impacts their marks and the overall grade dramatically increases their buy-in. Online learning is challenging but if students can see its importance within an assessment structure there will be a greater acceptance and a honing of skills.

Should the pandemic not cause major disruption to an exam series in 2022, it is vital that students become familiar with the mark schemes that their exams will be based upon. Allowing students to understand how the different aspects of the course build into their overall grade is crucial for their progress. Reports for each student based on the data that has been accrued, such as those produced by Pupil Progress, allows students to identify their strengths and seek to minimise the gaps in their learning.

For most of the last two academic years, the fractured nature of teaching has meant that the exam skills that are required for success may have been inconsistently applied both in the classroom and online. Through effective tracking, we can evidence where students have shown a particular aptitude and highlight where there is a weakness. This will give reassurance to pupils about their current position and provide a guide for future success within a subject.

So what?

Last year students were denied the opportunity to prove themselves academically. The celebrations and commiserations on results’ day across the country came about due to a  failed algorithm, disjointed teacher judgements or both. Whilst the destiny of this year’s exam classes is yet unclear, it is highly likely to fall to the judgments of teachers once again.

However, the exam series of 2022 should bring great optimism to schools. The vaccination programme at the time of writing is at 16 million doses in the UK, over 25% of our population including those most vulnerable; indeed after the summer break, it is expected that all adults should have received their vaccination.

School as we knew it may just be on the horizon and it is essential that our young people are set up for success. It is evident that we must use our time wisely now with our pupils to maximise their potential. We must recognise where our students are, plan to close the learning gaps and allow students every opportunity to realise their potential and celebrate or commiserate in a school hall just like we did many years ago.

Andrew Liddle

Chief Revenue Officer



Leave a comment on this post

Thank you for for the comment. It will be published once approved.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.