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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Cross

Unqualified re-marks?

It's March 20th 2020, and there have been a lot of big announcements today. The employment safeguards being put in place to help people through this unprecedented period of mass quarantine are pretty huge. We finally know who society's 'key workers' are. School's are out. Indefinitely. And SAGE have waded in with timescales on how long we can expect our lives to resemble some kind of sci-fi dystopia.

But one of the smaller (?) things that's stood out for me today is the strategy for grading those students who are now unable to take their G.C.S.E. exams. Why this out of all the other headlines? Let's have a look at what's proposed.

The idea is that teachers, rather than objective exam board markers, will grade their students in the relevant subject areas. So a maths teacher, for example, will look at his students, consider the aptitude they've shown, previous test scores, number of apples on the desk, and myriad other factors, and then assign them a grade.

Sounds reasonable? Well, to be honest I'm not so sure...

If there's one thing we're all getting schooled in hard at the moment, it's the fact that we are masters of under-estimation. C-19 is only the latest in a long and shameful repertoire of 'wars' we've thought would be over by Xmas. Notwithstanding actual wars (which, let's face it, are never over by Xmas, if ever), we thought that Brexit would be a breeze. That HS2 would come in on budget. That we could sell each other insurance that we didn't really need without consequence. That we could go ahead and pump toxic fumes into the atmosphere decade after decade, bury our refuse and fill the oceans with micro-plastic beads. That egomaniacs the likes of Donald Trump could never (with a public mandate) move into The Whitehouse and re-invigorate the US coal industry.

Add to that my own personal experience. It goes without saying that kids mature at different rates. But it's not just their intelligence and knowledge that mature. It's their readiness to apply their intelligence and knowledge as well. And that is a significant distinction.

Where I look back on education now and see it as the amazing opportunity that it is, pre-sixteen I was your classic 80s/90s schoolkid. I just didn't want to be there. I wanted to be riding my bike, playing football in the park, collecting stickers or trading cards. Just about anything in fact that didn't involve being dressed in a uniform, herded from room to room, forced to think about things I found boring, surrounded by other kids eager to take the p*ss out of me if I spoke or acted differently.

So it's fair to say that I didn't really take my education seriously until the eleventh hour. School was something that I had to do. Not something I ever wanted to do and succeed at. Perhaps it was just me. But somehow, having been there at the time, I don't think so. To put it bluntly, I screwed around pretty much throughout my time at school. I had fun. I acted the clown. I made a load of life-long friends. And I wouldn't have done it any differently. It enhanced my life in those respects and bequeathed me a heap of good memories that still, to this day, bring a smile to my lips.

If my teachers had had to grade me a year ahead of taking my G.C.S.E. exams, I have no doubt that I would've been down a grade on what I actually achieved in most if not all subjects. Why? Because in that strange and indefinable way that life has of steering us in particular directions, those last few months were precisely the ones in which I morphed from a B-grade student into an A-/A* grade one. Turns out I just needed to focus and get my head in the game, and it was that run up to the exams that allowed that transition to occur.

So how many present-day kids are going to fall into that same model on aggregate? Probably not too many, I agree. But I also think more than you'd imagine. I accept still not a high proportion, and don't get me wrong - I don't have any better solutions to this particular issue. The strategy suggested may be optimum. Who knows. But regardless, I do feel the need to give voice to those kids who were always going to pull out all the stops at the final exam hurdle, and whose full potential is now to be underestimated.

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