Return to school; Learning technology and Grade Misallocation – making the best of …

Return to school; Learning technology and Grade Misallocation – making the best of …

Once again, another school holiday has begun without parents and young people knowing if they will be going back to school at the end of it or not – thanks to the pandemic. Even before the discovery of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, returning to school in the New Year would have been a tricky one anyway. Here is a headline from BBC’s webpage (see the blogpost for a link to the BBC page) “Omicron: Schools prepared if Covid forces online move next term.” Schools have started to cry out for more clarification about what will happen in January.

Some are beginning to ask the question, “Who is to blame for the position we are in?” Is it schools, the government, or the pandemic? I do not see the question of blame as the right one to ask, as speaking about blame is trying to disconnect ourselves from responsibility. Everyone has a part to play in this.

There was a brilliant interview I heard on the Today programme on the BBC a week or so ago by one head of school. He said that they have advised all their teachers to forget about school and January for two weeks; to have a jolly good break over the festive period and leave everything until January. I could not agree more. He said that from what we have learnt in the last 20 months or so, nothing new can be thrown at schools. We have online learning, in-person learning, and part in-person-part online learning – all possible learning methods have taken place. Teachers have not been allowed to have a proper rest for the last 10 or so school holidays and I think it’s only fair that they are allowed to switch off for a couple of weeks.

There is no doubt that we live in uncertain times, and we just have to get on with it, as uncertainty has and will always be part of life. Can the government give us clearer direction? Yes, no and maybe. The way in which the government gives directions and communicates matter, but what matters more is the example it sets. Without being too political, not many people in England will agree at the present that government’s leadership on the pandemic has been adequate.

Let’s just leave politics aside for a moment, but I will come back to that in a while and recommend what I think should happen with respect to children’s education in the weeks and months that lie ahead.

In the previous blogpost, I stated what the government’s current position is and also made recommendations to us parents – with a few points that could serve as the basis for communication with and assisting our teenagers at this critical time. If you want to read more about those recommendations, you can see them in the link here.

Now, I will briefly highlight three or four key points on how you can ensure your child gets more out of their education at this rather interesting time.

  1. Online learning is second best but it can be made effective

In-person lessons are the best for young people for so many reasons. However, at this time, we will not always have that choice and we as parents must do what we can to make the best of online learning whenever it has to be used.

  • Use of technology during online lesson
  1. Mobile phone should be turned off and completely out of sight during lesson. No, a smart phone can’t be used as a calculator and also not as the device for the lesson – laptop or desktop, or if not possible, a tablet – are the best and not a mobile phone
  2. More handwriting, and less typing. A good teacher will encourage students to handwrite, as opposed to typing their work – good practice for the real exam…
  3. Every test counts – big or small
  • Every test counts – be aware mavericks!

Taking exams are a marathon and not a sprint. Tests are good for students irrespective of their academic ability, and irrespective of whether grades are awarded by proper traditional exams or by teacher assessment. In the unlikely event that teacher assessment is used to award exam grades in 2022, teachers will need stronger evidence to support any grade they award, and the government has recommended they do about three or so mock exams and document everything. This means that every little test and exam matters as it could count towards the final GCSE or A-level grades.

I’d like to emphasise more on the issue of technology. Children should develop the skills to use technology to learn in an effective manner. For me, one salient aspect is the over-reliance on technology. We all know how powerful technology is to our everyday lives. One effect of over-reliance on technology by young people is revising and doing question practice with very little pen and paper. We all know that exams are still largely written with pen on paper and that will be the case for the vast majority of exams for the foreseeable future.

Superficial vs in-depth question practice

I’d like to introduce two phrases: “in-depth question practice” and “superficial question practice” and I’ll explain each of them shortly.

Let’s look at in-depth revision first. The importance of printing out sufficient number of past exam question papers and other learning materials and writing on them with a pen cannot be over-emphasised. This practice allows children to improve their timing in the exam. It should be noted that handwriting is something that makes so many students lose marks – especially boys. For some teenagers, the idea of revising and question practice involves what I would call “superficial question practice” which is; downloading a couple of past papers, reading the questions, thinking about what the answers should be and checking the mark scheme. This is not an effective way to revise. Perhaps a student may want to do superficial question practice after they have already done an awful lot of in-depth question practice. I will recommend doing at least six past papers for every particular paper they are sitting. For example, Maths Paper One – six of those and another six of Paper Two and so on. From the six, at least four should be done in-depth and the remaining two may be done superficially. 

The government and the school will do what they want or feel they need to do and it is often the case that there is little that we as parents can do to influence their decisions and actions. What we can do as parents is to keep an eye out, so we are well informed, and use the information and data we have to assist our children in maximising the opportunities that are available in the present education climate.

One big reality for GCSE and A-level at present is the notion of Grade Inflation, which is real and profound. It is the fact that the proportion of top grades awarded at GCSE have risen by almost 50% and A-level by over 70% in two years. Proper exams were last conducted in 2019 but grades were awarded by teacher assessment in 2020 and 2021. This is not sustainable and should not be allowed to continue, otherwise the qualifications will soon lose their value. 

There are two sides to the story of grade inflation, and I will replace the phrase with “grade misallocation.” Whilst a record number of students have been awarded high grades by teacher assessment, there are many thousands who were awarded lower grades than they would otherwise have achieved, had there been the traditional exam. This has created winners and losers and I’m sure no parent wants his or her child to be among the losers, as this is a rather painful situation. However, this is the reality.

It was reported in Sunday Times that a group of parents are planning to take legal action after their children were awarded lower grades than what they thought they were capable of. There was a young man in 2020, who got an A grade in his A-level mocks and teachers awarded him a B, which made him miss out on sponsorship at a top university, and he went on to take the exams in the autumn and got A*. You can read more about him in one of the links below.

Links – from BBC webpage “Omicron: Schools prepared if Covid forces online move next term”

Grade Misallocation blogpost –

Sunday times article – parents’ legal action –