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Teachers Fear Gavin Williamson's Exam Plans Risk Repeating Last Summer's "Chaos"

4 min read

Education unions have urged Gavin Williamson to provide "urgent clarity" over his latest plans for awarding grades.

It comes after the Education Secretary announced a teacher-led grading system would be used to provide marks to students after the cancellation of all GCSE and A-Level exams.

Mr Williamson said the plan would put "trust in teachers rather than algorithms" as he acknowledged last year's exam fiasco which saw thousands of pupils grades reviewed.

Updating MPs, the cabinet minister said the system was still being "fine tuned" with exams regulator, Ofqual, and teacher's groups.

But several education unions have hit out at the announcement, saying the last minute plans risk repeating the "chaos" of last year's grading system.

Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT, said while cancelling exams was the "sensible" decision, that teacher's needed "urgent clarity" of how the system would work.

"The Government has a huge job to rebuild the confidence of pupils, parents and teachers after last year's debacle and it will be critical that the arrangements for how pupils' skills and knowledge are to be assessed and graded are transparent, clearly communicated and vitally, that they ensure fairness for all pupils," he said.

"Teachers are already under incredible amounts of pressure and stress as a result of the impact of Covid on schools and the Government's chronic mismanagement of the pandemic.

"The arrangements adopted for assessing pupils' grades must be developed in consultation with the profession and must keep workload and bureaucracy to a minimum.

"The Education Secretary says he is putting his trust in teachers by turning to teacher assessed grades, but he must also show them his respect by learning from the mistakes of the last nine months."

Meanwhile, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, accused Mr Williamson of having kept the plans from the sector.

"The NEU alongside other unions had called for structures to enable such a back-up option to exams in October. Had these structures been put in place then we would be in a much better position now to make it happen," she said.

"Instead, there is a danger that implementing such a process fairly and consistently nationally at this late stage will lead to further extreme stress and workload for education staff, students and parents.

"This stress could have been avoided had the government not been so obsessed and blinkered by their pursuit of exams in the face of the obvious prospect that they may not be fair or possible.

"Education staff will need further information soon about the training proposed by Gavin Williamson to assist with ensuring consistency and fairness of grades nationally. Students and parents will also want to understand how the process is fair for everyone across all types of qualifications - GCSEs, A-Levels, BTECs and others."

Mr Williamson also announced that teachers in state schools would be ordered to provide between 3-5 hours of online learning for pupils with parents able to complain to schools’ regulator, Ofsted, if they were unhappy with the level of teaching.

"We have set out clear, legally binding requirements for schools to provide high-quality remote education... If parents feel their child's school is not providing remote education they should first raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher and, failing that, report the matter to Ofsted."

But Dr Bousted hit out at the threat of Ofstead inspections against teachers, saying it was "part of their DNA to criticise rather than offer solutions".

"The last thing teachers and heads need right now is the spectre of Ofsted, which has been of neither use nor ornament throughout the pandemic. It is sadly part of their DNA to criticise rather than offer solutions or real help," she added.

"The best thing inspectors can do right now is offer their services, either as additional teachers or to supervise daily testing of those who will still be attending their school or college during this period of lockdown. That way we can allow heads and their staff to focus their efforts on what really matters - supporting their students, rather than the distractions of a visiting box-ticker."

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