‘Trust in teachers rather than algorithms’: UK govt attempts to avoid repeat of last year’s chaotic exam results debacle

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The UK’s education secretary said the government will trust teachers to decide students’ exam results after cancelling the GCSE and A-Levels tests again due to the pandemic. Teachers called last year’s results system a “shambles.”

The government had already ordered schools to provide remote teaching for at least three to five hours per day due to lockdown disruptions, and now education officials have decided that it’s not practical to proceed with traditional school assessments again this year.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs on Wednesday that, instead of this summer’s examinations, the government will “trust in teachers rather than algorithms” to assess the performance of students. 

Williamson said he will work with the country’s exam watchdogs to discuss what process to use in deciding the exam results — which are used for future employment and allocating college places. Training and support is to be provided to teachers in a bid to ensure that the grades they award are fair and consistent across the country.

The new approach aims to avoid a repeat of the problems experienced during the cancellation of last year’s exams, which Geoff Barton, the leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, described as a “shambles.” However, despite Williamson’s proposal, Barton warned that the government’s statement on assessments this year was “vague” and failed to properly outline a system which should already be in place. 

Kate Green, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, criticised Williamson for causing “chaos and confusion” and failing to take account of the views of teachers on the front line throughout the pandemic. 

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After the exams were canceled last year due to the pandemic, teachers were initially asked to submit assessments for each pupil, with this considered against class ranking and the past performance of the school to establish the final grades. Alongside this, in an attempt to ensure a level of fairness and consistency, the exam watchdog implemented a standardisation algorithm.

However, the government had to make a u-turn and allow results to be based solely on teacher-assessed grades after the algorithm was revealed to have unfairly targeted and downgraded students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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