By Aisha Sembhi
To say the fallout following the exponential spread of Covid-19 has been severe would be a gross understatement. Whilst every person has been affected in some way by the pandemic, it is perhaps GCSE and A-Level students who have been hindered beyond our original expectations. The decision to suspend final exams and instead award grades based on mock exams or previous academic attainment is certainly a necessity in halting the spread of the virus, but it leaves as many as 8 million academic hopefuls in limbo.
The primary grievance towards this plan is built upon the fact that there is no universal model for a student. Those who do not do well under the high-intensity exam environment may be pleased by the plan. Others (like myself), simply survive the academic year, saving their efforts for the all-important final exams. The idea that mock exams will provide a genuine insight into a student’s academic abilities is frustrating. Both my secondary school and sixth form constantly reiterated that if there were ever a perfect time to make an academic mistake, it was during your mocks.
In a similar way, I believe previous academic attainment fails to illustrate an accurate depiction of what certain students are capable of. When so much pressure is directed towards the final exams, the rest of the academic year lacks the sense of urgency many students require to consistently give their best effort. For myself, final exams were an opportunity to prove myself and rectify any mistakes I had made previously – I’m sure this is the case for several of this year’s GCSE and A-Level students.
Perhaps the main frustrations towards the plan is attached to the lack of coherent mitigation policy. I’m witnessing first-hand the anxiety this vagueness of this policy is causing through my younger sister, who was due to sit her GCSE exams this summer. The lack of coherent communication regarding a formal mitigation policy between government departments, schools and students is only adding to the building mental health crises perpetuated by the consequences of the virus. Students deserve to know exactly how their grades will be calculated and when they may get the opportunity to redeem themselves, should they be unhappy on results day.
The severity of this imagined outcome only becomes more troubling when considering A-Level results day, and the ambiguity surrounding the issue of university admissions. The current system in which university offers are awarded on the basis of predicted grades has repeatedly been suggested to be flawed. In 2017, UCL’s Institute of Education carried out a study which found that only 16% of predicted A Level grades are correct. This only begs the question – if predicted grades are not an accurate means of awarding offers, how can we expect them to be accurate in actually admitting students to universities?
[blockquote author=”” ]This plan will disproportionally harm Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students[/blockquote]
This anxiety is felt especially among certain underrepresented communities in the UK. It has been suggested numerous times that this plan will disproportionally harm Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students, as well as students belonging to working-class backgrounds and living in low-participation neighbourhoods. A 2011 study by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that black applicants were consistently underpredicted, whilst white students’ predictions were more in line with the actual grades received. It’s important for sixth forms, colleges, universities and other higher education institutions to acknowledge the potential hinderance these particular groups may face, and mitigate the damage wherever possible.
[blockquote author=”” ]We cannot afford to wait for better ideas[/blockquote]
Ultimately, the decision to cancel exams is certainly not the perfect solution, but it will have to do – in such a fast-paced crisis, we cannot afford to wait for better ideas. Awarding results based on standardised testing as a method for determining intelligence is a system flawed in itself, but one we rely so heavily upon – to suddenly remove this aspect of the schooling process could potentially have disastrous consequences. It’s a shame that certain students, particularly those belonging to BAME and working-class backgrounds, are continuously left behind when the education system innovates and repairs itself. For now, we can only hope teachers, exam boards and others involved in regulation will tackle each grade on a case-by-case basis and will see the best in students who have missed out on the chance to prove themselves.
Photograph: Thomas Galvez via Flickr