Principal’s Round-up – 9th April 2020

Happy Easter. It certainly is the strangest Easter I can recall, but, to stay healthy and sane, these calendared events should be marked in our consciousness if nowhere else. It provides some kind of milestone through this monotony. Getting used to social distancing has been hard for many, because it inevitably leads to emotional distancing and high levels of anxiety. This can be compounded when people that are known to us are in hospital, very poorly with the virus. Remember that APL is there as a service for everyone. Just call or log in using your card and there is advice available on all matters connected to mental health, finances and stress coaching. Educare courses are still available for you and now is the time to build up your portfolio. Some of these offer great advice about supporting young people, especially those who are more vulnerable.

There is still lots going on in school, it’s just a bit different . So many of you are certainly rising to the challenges we face and are able to adapt and react, using technology and resourcefulness to keep the show on the road. Work for students continues to be set online, and the IT team are busy resolving issues for some. Taking children from other settings has proved troublesome but it is right that we continue to support the whole community. That is why we were delighted to donate much of our eye and skin protection to the NHS this week. Teresa Tyler Smith was able to box up 239 safety glasses, 33 goggles and a face shield. We also donated 12 boxes of gloves and a roll of disposable aprons. I certainly hope that these items will help to keep frontline medical staff safe.

Maintaining communication with parents over the last two weeks has been very important, especially as the situation is demanding that the expectations of schools must change. Thank you to the Heads of Year who have called every parent in their year group so far. This interaction is immeasurable in its effectiveness, and it enables us to improve our work from a distance. I am grateful also to our volunteer drivers who have delivered FSM parcels to the whole of our catchment over the last 3 weeks, sometimes directly to homes. And we haven’t been alone. The MAT is working behind the scenes to make sure payroll goes forward, and those FSM food parcels are sourced and bagged up. They are also ensuring that our furloughed workers and apprentices are treated fairly. Of course we are still receiving daily updates from the DfE and are waiting for further advice on PPE for schools and guidance on how vouchers for families in receipt of FSM will work in rural communities.

As the weeks go by, many of you have been raising more educational issues with me. What will results really look like this year? How can we build resilience in our students to get through the social distancing? How are we going to share messages about bereavements? How will we all re-socialise when the distancing period ends and schools open? What is ofsted going to look like? I don’t have all of the answers just yet, but I am doing my best to answer where I can. We do at least know now what will be replacing examinations this summer and how grades will be calculated. On Friday the exams regulator, Ofqual published clarification on how this year’s examination results will be calculated. We have sent to all Y11 and Y13 parents the letter that has been written by Ofqual explaining the details. Tavistock College will be asked to send exam boards two pieces of information for each subject where a grade was expected. This information will be based on what teachers know about each student’s work and achievements. This information will be:

  • The grade teachers believe students were most likely to get if teaching, learning and exams had happened as planned. Subject teachers will consider a range of things like classwork and homework; results in assignments and any mock exams; any non-exam assessment or coursework completed; and each student’s general progress during the course.
  • The order of students at the school by performance, for each grade, for each subject. This information will be used to standardise judgements, allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across all schools and colleges in England. The final grade students get could be different from the ones we send to the exam boards due to this standardisation process.

We should not be seeking any further work from students at this point to support teacher-assessed grades. Not all students will be able to respond; some will be ill whilst others will be living under more difficult circumstances at home. Students and parents will not be allowed to see the grade that has been submitted to the exam boards as Ofqual have instructed us that this is confidential. Please do not respond to requests reveal the grades you will be sending to the exam boards or where you have placed individual students the ranking. This is confidential information between the school and the exam board.

I largely support Ofqual’s approach to basing GCSE grades on teacher assessment for the 2020 exam series, given the ongoing crisis. The government has determined that schools and colleges will not be held to account for their performance based on this summer’s grades. It is essential, therefore, that we all now put headline measures out of our minds when approaching this exercise. It is entirely about ensuring the students receive reasonable grades so that their own lives are as unaffected as possible. It is not about school ranking. The expectation is that the national picture for teacher-assessed grades will be broadly similar to that which would have occurred if the students concerned had actually taken their exams. It is understandable that teachers might want to give more students the benefit of the doubt by, for example, awarding more grade 4s than they might otherwise have obtained. But this would be wrong for several reasons:

  • Awarding organisations and Ofqual will take steps to ensure that grade distributions resemble previous years. Where centres produce grades which seem particularly generous, a moderation process will be applied.
  • Assuming that things head back to normal for the 2021 cohort, an inflated picture in 2020 would disadvantage those students currently in Year 10 and Year 12. They have enough to contend with having had their own studies disrupted.
  • This is an opportunity for the profession as a whole to show that it can, and will, produce reasonable grades through the process of teacher assessment. For those who believe that the current system of examinations at 16 is inappropriate there is a chance here to show that an alternative universe is possible

The process of allocating grades to students has some difficult ethical issues associated with it. We know that there are historic differences in performance between girls and boys, between disadvantaged pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers and so on. For this reason, teachers should ask themselves the question “What grade would this particular student most plausibly have achieved if they were taking the exam?”. This is not to be confused with a target grade, which might have an inflationary effect if used instead. Whilst we should as a profession be exercised about the inequalities which are present in the system, this is not the moment or the method to put it right.

The other issue to be taken into consideration is the determination to include all previous results in Ofqual’s redistribution formula. After schools send their teacher-assessed grades and rank students within each grade from secure to insecure, Ofqual will apply a national formula to mitigate any schools that have been too severe or too generous with grades; a formula which is still being worked on and which will be open to a brief consultation. The formula will take into account many factors, one of which is the school’s recent performance data. Whilst there is a need for fairness, this will unfairly disadvantage the students of schools which have made concerted efforts to improve in the last 12 months. Given that the government has already confirmed school performance data for 2020 will not be published, this only disadvantages the individual students, not the school.

Whilst we are clearly still in the mire it remains important to lift ourselves out of the present and think about the future. That is why I will continue to put fortnightly focus together. When the time comes for us to reopen, we will be ready to hit the ground running.

Finally, having got through the crisis management, I am now turning my attention to mediums and longer term planning for next year. Obviously I will need to consult with you all on some matters and you will hear more about this soon.

Sarah