Results 2021: What Communications Challenges Can School Expect?

A typical Results Day is one of celebration. Whether it be through a Principal’s proud words or the traditional photo of students leaping for joy, clutching that all important piece of paper. Yet as with last year, this Summer’s results will certainly feel different, given the cancellation of formal examinations in schools and colleges across the UK due to Covid-19.

Instead, a system of teacher-assessed grades (TAGs) will be used in conjunction with oversight and quality assurance from exam boards. Teachers are being tasked with submitting students’ grades based on a range of evidence – which can include coursework and tests which the school themselves have organised. The overall effect is that teachers, schools and colleges will use these forms of evidence to give a compelling snapshot of the level which a student is performing at.

Compare and Contrast

Placing the additional administrative workload this has created for schools and colleges to one side, the system also raises a series of communications challenges for education providers. Prime amongst these is arguably the issue of cross-year comparison, and the spectral fear of ‘grade inflation’. As any GCSE science exam will attest, a variance in variables undermines the ability to draw direct comparisons between results, and so it was with last year’s system.

As such, schools and colleges will have to balance celebrating their year groups’ achievements against an, admittedly hollow, scepticism about how they stand up to direct comparison. Last year, schools showed a natural hesitance to compare the attainment of different year groups, and largely focused on excellent examples of individual achievement, something which is likely to be repeated this Summer.

Underlining the validity of the results is also a necessity when discussing the practical implications of students’ results. For many of those looking to move into Higher Education, certain grades will still need to be obtained, and while students and teachers will hope for a degree of flexibility given the circumstances, the whole system relies on a mutual trust in the results’ validity and reliability. This is true of every year, but the 2021 system is slightly more delicate, and has required clear and consistent messaging to explain its inner workings.

Expect the Unexpected?

Managing the expectations of students and parents is always a key task for schools, but this year has arguably made it more acute than ever. Broadly speaking, students know roughly the level they are working at throughout the year, so while there is the natural hope that there will be few surprises come Results Day itself, this also paves the way for a slight a sense of deflation. Final grades are of course not a ‘done deal’ at this stage, but the day may miss the sense of anticipation which makes it such a memorable end to the schooling journey.

This year’s system is predicated on fairness and transparency; students may not know what grade they will end up with, but they do know what they are being assessed on and have a clear idea of their progression. This does mean that, on the other hand, should there be surprises, then students and indeed parents may feel more aggrieved than usual, and difficult conversations may ensue.

Cause for Celebration

Yet in parsing these issues, the inherent fairness of this year’s system cautiously raises its hand. As opposed to the inflexible stakes of an exam, which so often favours rote memory skills over intellectual suppleness, this year’s system gives a holistic reflection of each student’s attainment across the year. By placing faith in teachers – who see their students develop intellectually as time goes on – there is an argument that the results given this year will be more representative than previously.

Whether this can herald a structural change to assessment for the 2022 series and beyond is a debate for another time. However, what is for certain is that this year’s results are a not just a trustworthy reflection of educational attainment, but of students’ tenacity and teachers’ diligence following a profoundly uncertain year.

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