Dear Caring Parent

Re: Continued academic progress for teenagers irrespective of the pandemic

I hope you and the family are well and keeping safe. Now that many schools have a mixture of in-person and online learning, I trust your child is managing the transition from the older norm to the new learning environment well. 

The purpose of this message is to do three things:

  1. discuss matters surrounding the current situation with respect to schools, exams and the pandemic. 
  2. Present some facts, most of which you already know. At the same time, I am sharing my own view of the situation, some of which you may find useful in guiding your own child
  3. Inform you of our plans for this academic year and the justification behind it.  

It was really good to see children returning to school in September. We recognise that we live in uncertain times at present, as no one is absolutely certain if and for how long all school children will continue with full in-school teaching.

For the young people, learning has to go on irrespective of what COVID-19 does; however, it must be done in a safe environment. 

 

There will be examinations in 2020 – says the government.

The government’s position now is that there will be GCSE and A-level examinations in the summer of 2021 in England. The government is correct in providing clarity on this, as we now have a clear position to work towards.

The fact is that no one, not the government or any person or institution, can say with absolute certainty where we will all be with respect to coronavirus come next summer. I think the chances are 90% that the exams will go ahead. 

It surprised me when, in the middle of May, both Cambridge University and Bristol University moved all their lectures online until the summer of 2021. 

From what we are seeing before our eyes at present, those two institutions appear to have been proved right.  Although I was shocked at the time, about how quickly the decision was made on moving the whole of the next academic year online, when one thinks about it, it is certain that, irrespective of what the government says, confidence will never be fully restored and many people will not go back to living their lives the way they used to before coronavirus for at least one year. 

I really feel for those young university students at the moment, as what they are experiencing makes many of them feel they are missing out on a crucial part of their lives. I consider the first year of university a time that will live in one’s memory forever.  The truth is there is no easy solution for governments or institutions anywhere in the world on this important matter of managing people during a pandemic.

Although I am on the side of protecting the most vulnerable and allowing life for the vast majority to go on as normal as possible – it can only be done with sensible behaviour and safety precautions. The issue is that too many people feel a sense of entitlement and behave in a manner that I consider selfish and irresponsible. It must be said that this is a minority of people, but still too many and they make things difficult for authorities to manage and get the balance right for everyone. 

A lot of people will maintain social distancing for at least another year – or perhaps two – irrespective of a cure or a vaccine being found. Even if both the vaccine and cure are found very quickly, effectiveness of medicine takes a long time to be fully established, and, more importantly, for trust to be gained by people.

 

Online lessons at Excel in Key Subjects for now

At Excel in Key Subjects, for the above reasons, we have decided to base all our plans for the coming academic year on teaching online. Ideally, we would like a situation where we ask our students to come in to our centres for a tutorial session two or three times a year. This will be to have face-to-face tutorials with the teachers or to do tests. It must be noted, however, that both of these activities can be conducted remotely. In fact, we have done all of those things successfully online at the start of this term, and we will continue to do everything online for now.

We are only thinking about this possibility of some sort of in-person lessons at some point in order to break things up a little and give a different experience from just learning in front of computers!  We will constantly assess the position and follow government guidelines.

We are very fortunate that we managed to get online teaching going very quickly at the start of the lockdown and this has continued in the autumn. We are also very pleased about how effective the teaching we have been providing via online video lessons has been. Having said that, there can never be any room for complacency, as we must keep finding ways to further improve the quality of education we deliver.  

The variation in the quality of online education being provided by schools is something many parents find difficult to comprehend, as too many schools are providing substandard quality of teaching. There has been some improvement, but considering that we’ve had this situation for over six months now, the quality of online teaching should have improved much more. 

 

Algorithm, Teacher assessment and examination – fairness? 

The cancellation of GCSE and A-level exams this summer, and the fiasco created as a result of the algorithm-predicted grades created a great deal of anxiety in the minds of so many parents and students. The replacement, teacher-predicted grades, is a little better than the algorithm, but by no means as fair as an examination. 

The fact that people, on the whole, are reasonable and understand the reason why examinations have been cancelled does not remove the perception of possible injustice and unfairness in teacher assessment. 

There is an awful lot to celebrate in modern Britain, as the vast majority of teachers are fair and considerate and there are some checks and balances in place. However, it is still not good enough, as not only will mistakes be made, but people will be partial. The only thing that I consider fair is an exam of some sort. Even if 99% of teachers are fair and reasonable (not that I think the figure is anywhere near 99%), 1% making judgements about young people’s lives and awarding unfair grades is still unacceptable. 

One thing that we have learnt from the exams having been cancelled and teachers predicting grades is that it favours young people who consistently perform well throughout the year. Students who are the so-called mavericks are likely to lose out, as they will be predicted and awarded lower grades than they may perhaps have obtained, had they taken the actual exam.

What should happen now is that internal tests by schools should be taken more seriously by all parties. With tests being conducted under exam conditions and proper records being kept by teachers. This means that, in the event that teacher assessment is needed again, it will be based on solid and verifiable evidence. This needn’t be excessively more time-consuming, provided it is managed well by schools.

Previous blog post on pros and cons of technology: https://excelinkeysubjects.com/technology-blessing-or-curse-revision-electronic-distraction/ 

Last week's  blog post: https://excelinkeysubjects.com/advice-for-a-caring-parent-how-to-ensure-that-all-the-hullabaloo-surrounding-gcse-and-a-level-does-not-leave-your-child-short-changed/

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