Your Weekly Sector News 15/07/22

Catch up with Your Weekly Sector News as we reflect on the current challenges in education, ranging from the pressures of teacher assessed grades to the chaos of this year’s exam season.
School leaders and teaching staff at a meeting.
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Teacher Assessed Grades Add to Workload, Stress & Pressure

An Ofqual survey of 1,500 teachers found that fifty percent felt pressured by senior leadership teams, parents or pupils to change Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) last year, rising by thirty percent compared to 2020.

Up to a third of staff felt that the pressure came from senior leaders, generally to reduce ‘student grades to meet previous year’s grade profiles,’ although there was a small but significant number who felt pressured to increase grades instead. The report summarised that ‘both pressures conflicted with their professional judgement and the need to be fair to their students.’ Staff also noted that individual grading decisions were scrutinised by management, and the burden of having to justify decisions often increased workload.

A further twenty one percent felt pressured by parents and pupils. Often, this was in anticipation of results day and potential appeals. However, there were times when staff were contacted during the grading process, when either parents or pupils discussed ‘what students needed for future progression or individual circumstances that should be taken into account.’

To support staff through the TAG process, guidance was issued from the Department for Education, Ofqual, JCQ and awarding organisations, but many teachers found the materials too repetitive or long-winded, and advice was considered ‘unclear, vague, and inconsistent or even contradictory.’ Respondents were asked to write the three words that summarise how they felt about the experience of judging TAGs. The most commonly used words were “stressful,” “time-consuming,” and “exhausting.” For more insight on the TAGs assessment process, you can read the full report here.

Exam Errors “Hint at Complete Chaos”

This summer, both SATs and GCSE exams returned for the first time in two years, despite concerns that pupils were still not ready. However, it seems that exam boards and administrators were even less prepared, as stories surface of missing papers, incorrect marks and questioning errors.

According to reports, several GCSE exam papers contained mistakes, including a Geography paper that depicted a map of Africa labelled incorrectly. Exam boards also issued papers that contradicted the advanced information given to students, which was intended to level the playing field for pupils whose learning had been disrupted over the course of the pandemic. For example, one GCSE Law paper included a 30-mark question on a topic not listed in the advanced information.

In a letter to the Education secretary, Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee, writes that this negligence has ‘resulted in pupils facing unnecessary distress and anxiety during this already stressful period of highstakes [sic] summer exams.’ He calls for full marks to be awarded where all errors occurred and argues that exam boards must be fined for mistakes, making penalties ‘significant enough to act as a strong deterrent.’

Similarly, primary school leaders are calling for an investigation into SATs results after complaints of missing papers and incorrect marks. After waiting for hours for results to be released, due to a technical fault with the gateway website, school leaders and parents are now understandably outraged to discover some children have been allocated the wrong marks, or instead received no marks at all. Paul Whiteman of the NAHT union comments that ‘it should not be up to schools to have to spend hours double checking everything they’ve been told […] We need an immediate investigation into what has gone wrong and the government must take urgent action to fix it.’

The scale of the problem is still unclear, as Capita, who were responsible for managing SATs this year, claim that ninety-nine percent of the test scripts were processed without any issues. However, twenty percent of teachers reported that marks were missing from their SATs papers on TeacherTapp. Paul Whiteman calls for urgent action, reiterating, ‘school staff all play their part, take it seriously and do exactly what is expected – and the penalties for mistakes are severe. We should be able to expect the same standards from government.’

This week, we are reminded of the importance of accountability. A culture of continual improvement relies on reflection, understanding and diligence. By putting these values into practice, we can continue to raise standards and equity in schools, ensuring our children receive the best possible education.

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