Portsmouth headteacher wants GCSE exams scrapped next year because of coronavirus

SCHOOL assessments should replace GCSE exams next year due to the coronavirus disruption, a headteacher has said.

Monday, 16th November 2020, 7:00 am
Jane Prescott, headmistress of Portsmouth High School.

Headmistress of Portsmouth High School GDST, Jane Prescott wants GCSE exams scrapped and replaced with school assessments after the government said next year’s A-level and GCSE exams will go ahead in England.

Ministers say most exams will be pushed back by three weeks to give pupils more time to catch up on their learning but Mrs Prescott said a three-week extension was ‘not enough’ for pupils who have been affected by school closures due to the coronavirus.

She said: ‘This current cohort have had huge disruption, not just in the summer term, but in this term too. So they are feeling quite unsettled.

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‘There is a degree of anxiety, a degree of stress over how are they going to be examined. And what they don’t want is to have that rug pulled late in the day, nor do we, because we need to be able to plan.

‘For me as an independent school, it’s probably only about five days more teaching. It isn’t three weeks. So I don’t think that that’s the answer.’

The private school head recognised that students’ results could be higher if formal GCSE exams are replaced with school-based assessments in 2021.

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Mrs Prescott, who is president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), said: ‘I think that’s because you’ve ruled out the anxiety that goes from taking exams, so children will do better in school-based assessments because they’re less stressful, anxious environments.

‘As a country, we are a bit odd because we don’t praise or celebrate if we get a lot that achieve a certain level.

‘We tend to look at “oh it must have been easier, or the teaching was easier, or somehow or another we cheated the system”.

‘Why can’t we celebrate the fact that these young people have worked very hard and they’ve achieved a certain standard, which was the standard we were aiming for.’

Mrs Prescott also wants changes to A-Level exams so there is less content or fewer papers so students spend less time being examined.

This year thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm, before Ofqual announced a U-turn, allowing them to use teachers’ original predictions instead.

Mrs Prescott also highlighted the need for staff to be high on the list for getting access to any available vaccine to ensure schools can continue to stay open.

A plan that was put forward by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will see vaccines rolled out to older members of the community as well as care home workers and health care staff.

Mrs Prescott said: ‘It’s quite surprising how many people don’t put teachers higher up that list – and it’s not just teachers, it is everyone who works in schools, from invigilators to minibus drivers.

‘We are the people who then keep the children in schools, and if children are still in schools, then they’re learning and that’s good for them, but also their parents are often working then, which is good for the economy.

‘So I’d like to see that that is put as a priority for us.’

Speaking ahead of GSA’s virtual conference on Monday, Mrs Prescott vowed to praise school pupils for how they responded to the ‘worst global crisis in most people’s memory’.

She said: ‘Children today are not the ‘snowflake’ generation. They are, in fact, ever resourceful given the right environment and the right support; the kind of support typically given by teachers and other professionals for whom schools are the hub of communication.

‘What this pandemic has shown is that young people are more resilient than they have been given credit for previously.’

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