As a school leader I, like all of my colleagues across the UK, have been grabbling with the challenges of making sure pupils and staff return to a safe environment for the new school year. Although we are only a few weeks into term, already we are seeing the difficulties this is throwing up in areas where local lockdowns have been enforced and in schools where groups of pupils have been required to self-isolate. We all understand and accept why this is the case in order to control the spread of Coronavirus and protect public health. However, the ticking time bomb in the back of our minds is the provision being made for those pupils in Years 11 and 13 who are preparing for their final examinations next summer.
With the prospect of continuing disruption over the coming months, I would implore Gavin Williamson and his colleagues at the Department for Education to give clear, unequivocal advice to schools now in order to avoid the confusion and resultant anxiety that we saw this summer. The only fair and workable solution, in my opinion, would be another year where schools submit teacher-generated grades in place of examinations which cannot now provide a level playing field to pupils who will have suffered varying degrees of disruption to their learning.
And I would urge the cynical naysayers who decried the increase in pass rates as the thin end of the educational wedge to be banished along with the reforms so misguidedly brought in by Michael Gove (whatever happened to him?). The future of our young people is far too precious to be left in the hands of those who would rather compromise the hard work of pupils and the professional judgement of teachers at the altar of all-knowing algorithms. This summer showed, in sharp relief, that our present examination system is unfit for purpose. However, there is a shining opportunity to replace it with school-generated assessment: evidence-based and carefully moderated by the examination boards and Ofqual, to give the robust and transparent set of outcomes that our young people so richly deserve - with any school caught gaming the system called to account.
Now is the time to act in a way that gets it right for our young people. So come on Gavin, be creative, decisive and resolute.