Nurture’s dominance increases … 2021 GCSE & A-level exams may be at the mercy of teachers…

Nurture’s dominance over Nature increases, as teenagers A-level and GCSE exams for 2021 may be at the mercy of teachers again…

I’ve always been of the belief that nurture plays a greater role in success than nature. I’ve seen so many young people of average ability but who work hard excelling beyond all expectations.  At the same time, I’ve seen too many bright young people underperforming, and, in fact, failing exams all together.

Teacher assessment is not always based purely on a test, and often ignores the result of an internal examination. Most of us teachers know our students well and are fair in awarding or predicting grades; however, not all of us make decisions purely on academic merits at all times. Given what is at stake, it’s hugely unfair to allow so much to hinge on a system which is open to prejudices and favouritism. According to the BBC, there were 5.2 million GCSE exams in 2018, affecting over 700,000 pupils. For post-sixteen qualifications, including A-level, there were over 335,000 teenagers who took part in that same year. For the sake of argument, let’s just say that only 5% of teachers are biased, but we are still talking about 35,000 for GCSE and over 17,000 for A-level or equivalent qualifications. I have no doubt in my mind that the figure is much larger than my estimate here. Aside from any form of nepotism, there is the issue of genuine mistakes, and awarding grades can be a rather complex procedure, with plenty of room for an error of judgement.

I very much hope that real exams will go ahead in the summer of 2021, but in the event they don’t, only those students who work consistently throughout the academic year(s) will come out on top. There is nothing new in diligent students achieving or exceeding their full potential, the issue has always existed with those bright sparks, who do very little throughout most of the course and often manage to pull the rabbit out of the hat in the last minute and achieve top exam grades. Those mavericks will be disadvantaged by teacher assessment, and they will obtain poor GCSE and A-level grades. The potential consequence is ending up at a university that is not so reputable, perhaps studying a degree course that employers do not value much.

I’m incandescent with rage, each time I hear in the news or speak to parents and students, and they tell me that teachers are setting work for students to do and they classify that as teaching. I’m assuming that those teachers are still getting paid their full wages?

When the lockdown started, I was a million miles away from buying into the idea of online teaching, as I deemed it to be a waste of time. An excuse to spend more time in front of electronic devices, with the potential for the young person to be distracted and drift off into all sorts of places on the Internet. However, I have been pleasantly surprised two things: the first is how I managed to summon up the courage and also persuaded my colleagues that we give online teaching a go; the second is how successful it has been. There are three simple elements that constitute effective online teaching in my view:

  1. A teacher actually teaching live – preferably appearing in front of students via a video link – such as Zoom or Where students can interact and ask questions.
  2. The teacher sets work – that includes the students having to hand write their response (reflecting the experience of a real exam)
  3. The teacher checks the work and provides meaningful feedback

Just in case you think it is costly, below are three   items to be paid for:

  1. A decent laptop or desktop or tablet – about £80 on e-Bay or £199 for a brand new computer on Amazon
  2. A camera/visualiser – about £45 on Amazon
  3. The will of the teacher to have a go at doing it!

At the start of the lockdown, I reckoned it would take us teachers three weeks to familiarise ourselves with technology and get online teaching going. In the end it took us nine days and I’m amazed about the positive feedback we’ve had from parents and students in terms of the effectiveness of the online teaching.

Considering that, for an investment of between £125 and £250, a class of 15 to 30 students will receive a good quality of education in each subject. I’m outraged that so many schools are still pussyfooting around, and have not started to provide teaching to their students online.  I reckon, with the willingness to do it, over 95% young people should be getting 40% to 60% of proper teaching and not just setting work for students to do. Yes, the central government should help, but there is an awful lot that can be done with the existing resources.

Being the social animals that we are, it would be sad if online teaching were to be the predominant way of teaching school children for too long. I am optimistic that social distancing will end or be downgraded soon, and we will go back to our usual ways of hanging out with other primates in the not-so-distant future. However, for the time being, the education of young people must continue. We are very fortunate that we live in the richest part of the world and there is no excuse whatsoever not to be providing high quality teaching online.

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Number of students taking GCSE – BBC –

Number of students who took post-sixteen exams – government website