Putting trust in teachers, not algorithms

Alex Galvin, Senior Education Lead at SSAT, reflects on the announcement that teacher assessments will replace this year’s examinations; Alex also outlines some principles for consideration when forming a plan that shapes and delivers assessment in order to provide a meaningful and fair judgement.

A new term, a new lockdown and yet more uncertainty. In talking to our members, we continue to be impressed by the creativity and resilience teachers and school leaders have shown in navigating an ever-changing landscape. We know that it has been an immensely difficult year and are disappointed that the hard work of teachers has not been more widely acknowledged and appreciated.

In a development that has seemed inevitable for weeks if not months, yesterday, Gavin Williamson confirmed that this year’s GCSE and A-level examinations will be replaced by teacher assessments. As he put it “this year we are going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms.”

We welcome, firstly that a decision has been made, and secondly the intention to trust the professionalism of teachers in awarding grades. A professional judgement based on a rounded assessment of each individual will always be a better option than a statistical best fit.

But questions remain that require immediate attention. Given this has been a likelihood for months, it is concerning that the government do not appear to have a clear process in place for this to happen. A plan needs to be formed in discussion with teachers and school leaders – utilising the considerable expertise of education professionals in shaping and delivering assessment that provides a meaningful and fair judgement.

SSAT’s view is that in doing so, the following principles and questions need to be considered:

    1. Social justice. We know that the experiences of young people have varied hugely in the last year and it is essential that no students are disadvantaged because they have not had access to learning in the way that others have.
    2. Teachers are already experts in assessment. It is essential that the existing expertise of teachers is fully recognised – teachers do not need extensive training in how to assess, they are already highly experienced assessors. Instead support and guidance needs to focus on ensuring that there is clarity on what evidence can be used to inform judgements and that there is an agreed, consistent approach to moderation across schools.
    3. Teachers can and should be trusted to deliver fair judgements. It is insulting to teachers’ professionalism to suggest that if given responsibility for awarding their students’ grades they will automatically inflate results.
    4. Let’s be clear about what teacher assessment entails. Some commentary wrongly suggests that teacher assessment runs the risk of class teachers simply awarding grades on a whim. Last summer, schools spent an enormous amount of time working to award grades to their students in the absence of examinations. Great care was taken to moderate outcomes across schools, between schools, across multi-academy trusts and local authorities. We know that this year, even if they are not asked to, schools will apply rigorous systems of checks and balances to ensure that the grades that are awarded are robust and accurate.
    5. These results are as valid as those in any other year. It is essential that the process ensures that students feel that the qualifications they are awarded are meaningful and valid. To achieve this, the process needs to be robust, consistent and clear. The government and the media should support this cohort of students (and last year’s examination classes) by avoiding any suggestion that their results are second-best.
    6. Give teachers authority to use all available information. It must be recognised that most teachers have had very limited face-to-face contact with these exam classes. However, we know that schools, recognising the likelihood of this situation arising, have already given careful thought to assessment and have implemented plans accordingly. It is essential that schools are given clear authority to use all available information about their students in making a judgement – including whatever assessments have been used this year and their achievement prior to starting examination courses.
    7. Maintain a longer-term view. Instead of focusing on what these students may have missed due to the disruption this year, attention needs to shift to their next steps – what knowledge and skills do they need to make a successful transition to the next stage of their learning. Schools need to be encouraged to make decisions about curriculum for the summer term that will best meet the needs of their students. Again, the professional judgement of teachers and school leaders should be respected to enable them to make choices about how to make best use of the summer term.
    8. Prioritise wellbeing. We hope that the government will not go down the route of asking schools to use the summer term for assessment. The experiences of this year have been hugely stressful for staff and students and were students to return to face a barrage of tests it would be extremely damaging. Schools need to be allowed to work with their students in whatever way they see fit, to provide the learning to support them in their next stages and to support them socially and emotionally.

Schools have continued to put their students’ interests at the heart of decision-making throughout this difficult time. We know how hard teachers have worked to support young people throughout this year. SSAT is a network, we exist to connect and support you. If there is any way that we can help, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Join us at the upcoming policy webinar – exclusive to SSAT members

SSAT members are invited to join Alex Galvin and Sylvia King, senior education leads at SSAT, at the first of our free spring term SSAT member-exclusive webinars on Wednesday 13 January at 4pm, for discussion of the latest educational policy developments which affect us all.

The webinar will consider what we know so far and what questions we still have.

Spaces are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Book your free place

Not an SSAT member? Learn more about membership.

One thought on “Putting trust in teachers, not algorithms

  1. Stuart on said:

    The sentence “It is insulting to teachers’ professionalism to suggest that if given responsibility for awarding their students’ grades they will automatically inflate results.” is interesting. We di leave it to teacher last year and they did massively inflate results. It’s absurdly niave to believe that the same won’t happen again. Perhaps reflect on Robert Mugabe’s approach to economic management and you’ll gain some understanding of the log-term consequences of this i.e. an A* at A-level has a certain value and so if they give them out students will be happy; but if 3 times as many are given out then that value falls. Therefore the students who would have got an A* in uninflated times find themselves with the same outcome as much weaker students. And the value of that a* is damaged for all time.

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