Boris Johnson defends a new grading system for schools

  • Teachers will allocate grades to students instead of examining bodies
  • Parents and MPs raise concerns about the efficacy of the new grading system
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson encourages schools to introduce summer catch-up projects
  • Education Minister, Nick Gibb, said mask-wearing would not be mandatory in schools

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended a new teacher-assessed grading system for A-Levels and GCSEs announced by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson earlier today after concerns raised by parents and other MPs.

Due to the disruption to learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gavin Williamson said that teachers would determine student grades instead of examining bodies this summer to ensure “fairer” results.

Despite concerns about grade inflation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new grading system is the “right way forward” for pupils and “as good a compromise as we can come to” following the cancellation of formal exams.

Mr Johnson admitted that he wished students could take exams this year, but the disruption to classroom learning caused by lockdown restrictions meant this was impossible.

He added: “In an ideal world, you would not have taken kids out of school because of the pandemic; we wouldn’t have been forced to do this.

“And in an ideal world, we’d be continuing with exams as you normally have them.”

Instead of students sitting exams this summer, teachers will allocate grades by assessing what pupils have learnt amid the Coronavirus pandemic, with the help of voluntary “mini” subject tests.

School grading system will be axed

Standard school grading systems have been ditched

According to the Education Secretary, grades will be determined by students’ work as part of their courses, such as essays, class tests, mock exams and coursework.

It comes as official government statistics reveal children across the UK have fallen significantly behind in core subjects such as English and maths during the national lockdowns.

Mr Williamson also said that students would receive their A-level and GCSE grades several days earlier than usual to allow more time for results to be contested and appealed. At the same time, the option to sit exams will be made available during the autumn.

While no marking algorithm will be used, teachers will have the option to draw on previous assessment questions for students to help determine what grades to allocate.

These optional assessment questions will be provided by UK exam boards, these being:

  • Pearson Edexcel
  • Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Exams (OCR)
  • Welsh Joint Examinations Committee (WJEC)
  • Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA)
  • Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • and the Council for Curriculum and Examinations Assessment (CCEA)

However, as there is no marking algorithm, this runs the risk of a grade inflation frenzy if teachers are overly generous with their grade allocations.

Former Director-General at the Department for Education, Sir Jon Coles, resigned from his position in 2020 after the British government refused to mandate mini exams for students, warning that they risk worsening the education situation without a marking algorithm.

Concerns raised over the fairness of the new grading system

Sir Jon Coles criticised the UK government’s new grading system, warning it could trigger a “free for all” to the point where results become “meaningless.”

Tory MP and Chair of the Select Committee, Robert Halfon, seemed to share similar concerns. Mr Halfon said he was worried that the new teacher-assessed grading system would create a “wild west grading system” for students due to the lack of standardisation.

While Labour appears to favour the new system, MPs from the party have criticised the UK government over delays to the announcement and inconsistency over approaches to how students should be assessed.

However, the grading approach the government are taking to award Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VTQs) is structurally similar to previous assessments as students will need to demonstrate the necessary professional standard in an occupation.

The Education Secretary has also urged secondary schools in England to consider running face-to-face catch-up schools in the summer to help make up for lost schooling.

Summer catch-up schools

Summer catch-up schools for England pupils

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an additional GBP 400M in funding had been allocated to schools, with a further GBP 300M available for schools implementing catch-up projects for their pupils.

Mr Johnson said the GBP 700M investment, which takes the total catch-up fund to GBP 1.7BN, will give schools more freedom to choose how to support their children and help ensure “no child is left behind” due to the pandemic.

Teachers, experts and unions welcomed the catch-up funds, claiming the investment will be of significant value to pupils learning. However, they also warned that it’s important not to overwhelm students, many of which have struggled amid the pandemic.

The government have also outlined plans to boost international study and global opportunities, with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds expected to benefit significantly from the new scheme.

The pioneering Turing Scheme, which will cost GBP 110M to fund, aims to boost access to student exchange opportunities, study placements and training programmes for approximately 35,000 students across universities, colleges and schools in the UK.

The Turing scheme was launched to replace the EU’s Erasmus Scheme following Brexit to help level up chances for young people across all backgrounds, with the EU’s scheme said to “disproportionately affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The first placements under the scheme will occur from September 2021, and UK organisations can now begin to apply for funding for the project through the newly launched website.

It comes as Boris Johnson confirms that all schools will reopen from March 8th as part of the first stage of the UK government’s lockdown exit roadmap.

Face masks will not be mandatory for school children

With school children set to return to the classroom on March 8th, Education Minister Nick Gibb confirmed that mask-wearing and testing would not be mandatory for students.

However, Mr Gibb has urged schools to encourage all children to wear masks and get tested regularly to minimise transmission risks.

Nick Gibb said that while it will not be compulsory, all children will be asked to take three COVID tests upon returning to school, and as this will take time to process, teachers will have to stagger the return to classrooms over several days.

Mr Gibb said students would take the first three COVID tests in school to be shown how to do perform the swab safely and effectively. After this, pupils will be encouraged to take two tests a week at home under their parents’ supervision.

During an interview with the UK talk radio station, LBC, the education minister admitted that he hopes most pupils will volunteer to get tested twice a week.

“We’re recommending very strongly to schools that there should be facemasks in the classroom, particularly when you can’t socially distance in that classroom,” he said.

“It is one more measure to help reduce the risk of transmission in the school on top of the hygiene, the ventilation, the bubbles and so on, and this is another measure that’s being recommended.”

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