Education and Skills

Exams by stealth? It’s time to listen to us teachers

Whilst teachers and students in Wales waited with anticipation to see if the minister for education would follow the recommendations set out by qualifications Wales, what was announced simply caused more anxiety to the industry than the postponement of exams announced in England, writes qualified teacher, Sian Melbourne.

Kirsty Williams not only agreed with the recommendations to cancel GCSE exams, she went one step further and also cancelled AS and A level exams! Her announcement stated that she would like to see external classroom assessments at the end of the spring term, but further on in her announcement stated that the first external assessment wouldn’t be ready till the end of the spring term? Well, coming from a teacher, that doesn’t leave us a lot of time to prepare nor plan.

As a teacher I have to say that I am very glad to be back in the classroom, I’m lucky to be in a school that has put staff and pupil wellbeing at the top of their agenda, guidelines are followed to the letter and support is offered to everyone. We are working to a new agenda, like blended learning, but we are adapting and improving every day. That, however, will not turn back time – as Cher once said!

Pupils have at best lost 5 months of teaching and learning, at worst additional 14 days isolation time due to covid19 in their school bubble or family bubble – some have faced more than 1 session of isolation. Blended learning does not support students the same way face to face does, and understanding this is key to progression.

So back to exams, year 11, 12 and 13 students, will have missed valuable teaching and learning time for developing a deeper understanding of topics, teachers have been fortunate to teach a shorter course thanks to agreements earlier in the year, but even that has not tackled the differences in topics or content delivered in schools across Wales, teachers are still working their socks off to ‘catch up’ and the announcement on Tuesday – whether good or bad, simply left more questions than it answered.

Now is the time that the minister should consult with teachers, parents, pupils and higher education providers to establish a baseline for progression – she stated she wanted a linked up national approach? How can she achieve this without a consistent ‘test’ for all? She wants a transparent robust approach to ensure everyone has the same opportunity, what she is saying is that although she has scrapped exams, she has introduced external tests – is this exams by stealth?

Has she made it harder for pupils with ALN to achieve? How do they access their extra time, or their support in a classroom environment, access to a quiet room, or closer toilet facilities if an external ‘test’ is an hour-long? What about those students who are school refusers or have mental health worries, who revise and work hard towards an end exam? Like I said teachers are even more confused now, and as the term progresses, have less and less time to ensure the lost time is used effectively.

So what next, what can teachers and pupils expect? A quick resolution – well I hope so – it’s the only way that we can ensure that we don’t suffer the same farce faced by last years students. The decision has been made – stick to it, back it up robustly and trust the teaching profession to do their jobs.

Sian Melbourne is a Councillor for Llanishen & Thornhill on Cardiff Council and has been a qualified teacher for 16 years.