7 July 2021
Girls’ Schools Association head teacher Alex Hutchinson has said we need to make this year’s GCSE and A Level results days as normal as we can for students.
Alex, who is head of James Allen’s Girls’ School and chair of the GSA education committee, was talking on the latest Girls’ Schools Association podcast where she answers questions about what this year’s results days will look like, the difference between last year’s CAGs (centre assessed grades) and this year’s TAGs (teacher assessed grades), how students can appeal, and why it’s important to see grade inflation in context.
Discussing how different this year’s results days will be, she said:
“Students will receive their results on the morning of results day as usual. Yes, it will feel a little bit different because schools will be releasing grades that they already know, but what’s really important is that nationally, locally, within our own schools, we are still celebrating the success of those young people because it’s the result of their hard work, their endeavour, their commitment that we are awarding the grades this year, so I’m very keen that it feels as normal as it possibly can this year.”
To students she gave this advice:
“Never ever feel that you’re on your own. Just as in any normal year, we will be there in schools to give support and advice and, most importantly, we will be there to celebrate with you after what has been an extraordinary year.”
GRADE INFLATION – FAR FEWER STUDENTS WHO HAD A ‘BAD DAY’
Alex believes that we should expect grade inflation this year, but that she hopes people will understand why this is and appreciate that schools have assessed each student as fairly as possible. She said:
“I think we should expect grade inflation this year. Assessments have been different and it’s hard for us to compare a normal year with the different processes we’ve put in place this year. What I hope is that the narrative around results will be absolutely understanding of that. The grades – if higher than a normal year – make sense in the context of the year we have had, and schools have assessed students as fairly and as thoroughly as possible.”
Equating this year’s grades to previous years where capable students may have experienced a ‘bad day’ on exam day, and been graded according to their performance on that ‘bad day’, she said:
“There will still be some disappointments this summer, but I think what we’ll find is far fewer students who had a ‘bad day’.”
APPEALS – ‘UNHAPPY’ vs ‘UNREASONABLE’
Discussing this year’s appeals process, Alex Hutchinson explains that schools have been collating ‘baskets’ of evidence for the grades they have awarded each student and that, because of the guidelines, every school may have used a slightly different method of collecting evidence. Commenting on whether those grades will be supported by exam boards in the appeals process, she said:
“We all hope that exam boards will really respect the [grade] decisions that schools have made and understand that schools have done everything in their power to reward young people appropriately.”
Alex also outlined the subtle difference between being unhappy with your grade and having clear evidence that a mistake has been made when awarding your grade, which is the basis for an appeal. She said:
“The centralised appeals process says if you think a mistake has been made, there is a process there for you, but it doesn’t centre around if you are unhappy with your grade. The first stage of appeals comes to the school itself to check if a school has made an honest mistake. It’s absolutely the school’s responsibility to check and correspond with exam boards if a mistake has been made. The stage 2 appeal is after you’ve been to your school and still think there has been an error in the process OR that you think an unreasonable judgement has been made. The guidance doesn’t say ‘the school could have given me a different grade’ it says ‘the grade the school has given me is unreasonable’.
“What I would hope is that the level of intricate, double and triple checking [that schools have gone through] before submitting grades means that there are very few mistakes.”
ADVICE FOR STUDENTS HOPING TO GO TO UNIVERSITY
Alex Hutchinson’s results day advice for students hoping to go to university is to follow your UCAS track carefully, double check what it says and to talk to your school. She said:
“If you think an error has been made, it’s important to act quickly. There are priority appeals for those whose access to higher education may be affected. Be very careful if you miss your firm offer that you find out what your insurance offer is saying as well. Don’t panic if you don’t get your grades and go into clearing. Get advice from your school. Look very carefully at what’s on offer. There are some amazing courses in clearing and every year students pick up fantastic outcomes.”
AUTUMN EXAMS – THINK CAREFULLY
To A Level and GCSE students who are unhappy with their grade and have the option to sit an exam in the autumn, Alex Hutchinson’s advice is to talk to your school about whether they will provide support, such as revision classes. She also said:
“What I would say is to think very carefully about what that will feel like to sit an exam in the autumn. You may find that after you’ve left school and your cohort has moved on, you may find it harder than you think to get back into that routine of [preparing for] an exam. Equally if you think you might want to sit a GCSE while getting on with your A Levels, think about how that may feel, revising for a GCSE when you’ve sort of moved on from them. The autumn exams are there as an option but do try to have the bigger picture about what the impact of that might be.”
2022 EXAMS – WE NEED A SENSE OF NORMALITY
Answering questions about her vision for next summer’s exams, Alex Hutchinson said:
“My impression is it will be very much the DfE’s wish that students sit exams in summer 2022 for a much-needed return to a routine that we recognise after a very unsettled year in education. I imagine Plan B will be similar to [TAGs] this year, but we will keep everything crossed that we don’t need a Plan B.
“Those students who will be taking next year’s exams have had disruption to their educational experience, depending on very local circumstances, and there will have to be some sort of recognition that the playing field is not level. There will be questions as to will we increase optionality in exams – will there be a bigger choice of questions – will there be a reduced specification, will there be some sort of learning aids that can be taken into exams such as formulae sheets in science and so on.
“Those discussions need to be had and we need to know the outcomes in schools soon so we can start planning. We really do need that clarification and we do hope that we get some sense of normality and an exam season this year because I think we all need it.”