Exam uncertainty

Photo: iStock.com/kontrast-fotodesign

Nobody could have predicted the impact the pandemic would have on exams. Attain's Editor, Matthew Smith, talked to two senior school Heads – Emma Taylor of Dean Close and James Dahl of Wellington College – to understand their hopes and concerns.

For students in exam years, the pandemic has brought yet more uncertainty. With the announcement of the cancellation of public exams, pupils, parents and teachers have all been expectantly awaiting a plan to replace them. The Government has launched a consultation, which will end on the 29th January. It is hoped this will shape a fair solution for pupils and avoid the results fiasco which took place last year.

Memories of that day are still very clear for Headteachers. 'I would say that the A Level results day was probably the most difficult day of my 31-year teaching career,' explains Emma Taylor, Warden of Dean Close School in Cheltenham. James Dahl, the Master of Wellington College in Berkshire, shares a similar view: 'If I had to describe it in one phrase, I would say it was traumatic... and I don't use the word traumatic, or relate to trauma, lightly.'

For the Government, this presents a real challenge. They have found themselves at odds with the views of teachers, heads and the unions at several critical stages during this pandemic. To achieve any kind of consensus of opinion will be very hard. And at the heart of the discussions must be the welfare of the pupils themselves for whom the uncertainty is mixed with huge disappointment.

As James Dahl points out, there is 'a big misconception throughout all of this that pupils will be pleased that exams got cancelled and it was absolutely not the case.' He describes how pupils at his school were really upset and wanted to take their exams. 'They want to put themselves through that external challenge and know that their results were earned,' he explains. 'And actually, I have spoken to a lot of last year's Upper Sixth graduates and they are really pleased that they got the grades they deserved in the end – but they don't quite feel that they 'own' those grades...'

Emma Taylor and James Dahl reflect on the exam results fiasco last year – and their hopes for this year

Matthew Smith is the Editor of Attain.