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Covid-19 in Education – The impact on exams and assessments

#ResultsDay with a difference – On the 18th March 2020, Prime Minister, @BorisJohnson announced that all UK schools will close from 20th March, due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19).

It was also announced that examinations in the May/June series, would not take place. This included A Level and GCSE subjects.

This was also quickly followed by promises from the Department of Education that students would still receive predicted grades based on assessments that had already been completed.

Examination Results

The SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) published results for National 4, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher qualification on 4th August 2020. These results were brought together by Teachers’ estimates based on performance over the school year. Students were then placed within bands for each subject and ranked in order.

Moderation was then carried out by the SQA to ensure that national standards were maintained and the SQA were quoted as saying:

“While it has been necessary to uphold the integrity and credibility of Scotland’s qualification system throughout this uniquely challenging period, all of SQA’s efforts have been focussed towards ensuring fairness for all learners, and that the qualifications they receive have been delivered safely, and securely following the latest public health advice.”

In reality, many students were marked down and received lower grades than had been estimated by their teachers.  This resulted in the SQA being accused of “a shambolic handling of the process” by the Scottish Conservatives.

Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive AS and A Level results on 13th August and GCSE results on 20th August. We can probably assume that they will likely be suffering the same fate as Scottish students!

How has all of this affected private candidates?

Unfortunately, private candidates have been the real victims of this whole process. Private candidates consist of students who have been home schooled, students studying by distance learning or students who have a private tutor.

Although the Department of Education consistently stated that private candidates would not be forgotten and procedures would be put in place to ensure that they could receive their predicted grades, very few students were actually able to achieve this because of advice given by Ofqual.

With a matter of weeks before grades had to be submitted, it was bluntly announced by AQA that where a private candidate did not have an existing relationship with their examination centre, they would need to consider sitting their examinations in the Autumn, if this option was available to them.

With this news coming so late in the day, it is hardly surprising that examination centres did not have the time and capabilities to make alternative arrangements. Let’s hope lessons have been learnt from this!

Could assessment have been carried out differently?

As with every other sector, Covid-19 spread so quickly, little time was available to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that every student received the grades they had been working towards. Terms were not completed and we may not have seen the best from learners.

Perhaps if more time had been available, schools might have been able to turn to distance learning as a way of setting further assessments and ensuring that students had completed all the work, they would normally have completed by the end of the term. Whilst every effort was made from the schools, this was an impossible situation due to the lack of technology available to all students.

We are still looking at rocky roads ahead and due to the unpredictability of the future, we all need to be thinking of how we can find a way to ensure that learners are able to complete all of their studies and go on to sit their examinations in the next series.

Perhaps we need to turn to other countries to see how they are managing to overcome this, such as Hong Kong, where exams have already been sat in large exam halls under socially distanced conditions. Desks are spaced out and when students arrive, temperatures are taken and they are required to wear a face mask together with submitting a health declaration form. Other countries have postponed exams until numbers have reduced.

Future Education

However we look at this, there is no getting away from the fact that at some stage, schools may need to close due to outbreaks of Covid-19. Rather than relying on traditional methods of schooling, it may be time to consider alternatives such as Teachers putting together video tutorials and organising worksheets that can be accessed through an online portal.

Students could then submit their completed work to their Teacher for marking. All of this could be completed safely without risking the health of students or anyone involved in the teaching industry. Whilst this is not an ideal situation, it may be an option to stop the interruption of education until this virus is eradicated.

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