Teachers grading A level and GCSE exams was the right decision, says Sheffield MP

A Sheffield MP says the decision to allow teachers to mark A level and GCSEs results was right – and admits she almost messed up one of her own exams when she was at school.
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Grades for the past two years have been based on teacher assessments following the cancellation of exams due to the pandemic.

Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates says exam results “seem pretty scandalous” with dramatic grade inflation over lockdown seeing nearly half of students awarded the top A* and A grades.

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And while she admits the results threaten public confidence in the examination system, she says it was the right outcome.

Miriam Cates MPMiriam Cates MP
Miriam Cates MP

Writing for the Unherd website, she says: “In the best of times, exams are useful because they are objective, but they are never fair.

“As a former teacher, I can vouch for the fact that the best students do not always get the best grades; pressure, personal circumstances and even bad luck result in grades being dropped for a certain number of students.

“I myself turned up to my GCSE physics exam to find it was actually economics and I’d read the timetable wrong – a stupid mistake, but impossible to foresee in advance.

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“Teachers really are experts in seeing children’s potential. If asked to assess a student, they will award a grade that reflects the best of that pupil’s ability – which will in many instances be a more generous assessment than what would have been achieved in an external exam.

“It might be statistically certain that some students in each class will underperform their potential, but how can a teacher decide which students that will be? If no pupils are downgraded, the inevitable result is grade inflation.”

Ms Cates criticised a “poorly executed” attempt last summer to use a complex algorithm to award grades.

“You can’t leave it to a computer algorithm to assign the bad luck, it understandably seemed arbitrary and cruel.

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“Teacher assessment is far from ideal, but given the school closures and exam cancellations I can’t see an alternative. If that means one-off grade inflation then so be it.”