Making sure pupils are ready for the next stage by Carys Gwillym

In a previous blog post, we discussed the pros and cons of exam cancellations in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the recurring closure of schools throughout the past year. After much thought, it was my personal opinion that exams should not be cancelled, as it was ultimately in the worst interest for students across the United Kingdom. 

Ultimately, a decision has been made, and that decision was to cancel all GCSE and A Level exams in England for 2021. But, although this may reduce stress and questions about exam grades, I do wonder how it will impact on the knowledge that students take with them to the next stage of their education? Exams are a great way to reinforce and cement what we have learned. Even if they don't suit your learning style, the whole process of revising does mean that more information is retained than it, most likely, is by just using coursework.

So, I would suggest that this is not the time for students to take their foot off the peddle. Instead of sitting exams, students’ grades will be determined through a combination of coursework, mock exams, and essays. Exams may not be externally marked but I am sure that teachers will be using them within their schools as part of their assessment and grading of their pupils.

Despite the fact that this new approach might be more effective than the one derived last year, there are still many difficulties that will arise from the scrapping of exams; their absence creating a sort of ‘freestyle scenario’ for the grades that could potentially determine a student’s future prospects. Most importantly, whilst we need pupils to catch up with each other, with their families and their friends, they also need to keep their eye on the prize in terms of the next step, whatever that may be, and being prepared and ready for the challenge.

And so, it is vital that our students continue to learn, which I am certain they are doing, but the loss of exams can also produce a loss of focus. I certainly would not relish being a 5th form teacher trying to contain my class without the carrot (or stick) exams provide. My suggestion is to revise as though you have an exam to sit in the coming months. Stay focused, and keep your mind active, for – even with the cancellation of exams – revising your knowledge again and again is the most effective way to learn, and therefore the most likely way to continue to blossom in these trying times. Ultimately, even though there has been a lot of anxiety shared across the nation, the grades our students receive later on in the year will not be taken lightly.

It has been an extraordinary year but life will get back to normal and we need to ensure that our pupils are ready to fly, not be held back because they have not had the push that exams may provide.