The Government announced earlier this year that GCSE and A Level examinations will not take place in 2021, due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.
Instead, GCSE and A Level exams in England are being replaced by teacher assessments, which will be used to calculate the final subject grades awarded.
Simon Lebus, chief regulator at the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), announced that teachers will assess the standard at which students are performing based only on what they have been taught, so that schools or colleges can determine a pupil’s grade.
“Teachers’ judgements should be based on a range of evidence relating to the subject content that your teachers have delivered, either in the classroom or via remote learning,” he said in an announcement on 25 February.
Evidence includes work that a student has already completed, mock exam results, homework or in-class tests, and teachers may also use questions from exam boards to help assess a student.
However, teachers across the country have expressed their frustration with the current assessment procedure, with many experiencing an increase in workload on top of regular duties.
‘It really is a scandalous state of affairs’
A secondary school teacher from East London, who wished to remain anonymous, said that “the workload for teachers has absolutely increased” due to this year’s GCSE and A Level assessments.
Although the English teacher is used to marking mock examination papers every year, she told NationalWorld: “The difference this year is the sheer number of assessments that we are having to mark across an entire half term to ensure that we are collecting evidence that means our grading will be robust.”
The school’s English department is assessing pupils on an almost weekly basis due to pupils sitting two GCSE exams in English, and once the pupils have completed the assessment the teachers then have to mark 10 papers from across the cohort for standardisation within a week, and then input all of that data.
The teacher, who isn’t teaching A Level students this year, added that if she was then she would also be having to fit in all of the above steps with A Level classes too. This is the experience of some of her colleagues, who, she says, “simply do not have enough hours in the day to carry out these tasks”.
The English teacher is currently working a minimum of a 10-hour day in school, followed by an average of one to two hours at home in the evening in order to get all of her planning done, alongside usually working on Sunday afternoons.
The teacher said: “It really is a scandalous state of affairs that we have had this extra workload put on us, including admin work which is not in our job description because the government has put schools in this position.”
Alongside this, schools in areas hit hard by Covid, like the English teacher’s East London school, have additional challenges: “[We] are also trying to manage all of the mental health implications of the pandemic, bereavements, safeguarding concerns and all of the complex contexts that our pupils have been in during lockdown, with parents and carers losing jobs, and difficult living situations.”
‘I'm just exhausted with the whole thing’
A Religious Studies and Philosophy teacher from North London, who has both GCSE and A Level classes, told NationalWorld that teachers in her school “are trying to support students pastorally, find time to plan and create mark schemes for assessments, as the exam board haven't provided a huge amount whilst teaching all our other year groups”.
The teacher - who also wished to remain anonymous - said that marking 60 GCSE papers, alongside A Level assessments and teaching five other year groups “is going to mean some serious late nights”.
“Workload is going to go through the roof in the next few weeks,” she added.
“My biggest fear is the backlash from students, parents, senior leaders and the government when all of this blows up - which it will.
“Honestly I'm just exhausted with the whole thing,” the teacher added.
‘A tense exam hall atmosphere’ - the impact of assessments on pupils
The Head of Department for History in a secondary school in Cumbria has also said the workload for teachers “had increased massively” due to the GCSE and A Level assessments.
Alongside the pressure on teachers, she said that the assessment pressures on pupils has turned the classroom “from a fairly dynamic environment in which students were learning through a range of different activities into a tense exam hall atmosphere where students are desperately churning out past paper exam questions in order to meet the evidence quota for the previous modules.”
The teacher, who is marking papers “all evening every evening”, said that the increased evening and weekend workload is “just an expected part of my job as Head of Department”, and that she isn’t being paid anything extra.
Although the teacher said that teacher-awarded grades is “a much better system than the algorithm the government initially used last year”, she added that the “sheer weight of evidence we are being required to produce and mark is unfair to everyone involved”.
Addressing this year's GCSE and A Level assessments, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are grateful for the hard work of all school staff to support students and help them gain their qualifications during the pandemic. Many of our policies have been designed with workload in mind which, with union support, we are seeking to minimise as much as possible.
“Teachers will use a range of evidence for GCSE and A level grades this summer, such as in-class tests and coursework, and can use sets of questions provided by exam boards if they choose. Teachers know their students best, which is why we are giving schools the flexibility to determine how best to assess their cohorts.”
A spokesperson for the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) – which is an organisation representing the eight largest examination boards in the UK - said: "Following the Department for Education’s (DfE) decision that it was no longer fair for exams to go ahead this summer, exam boards have worked hand-in-hand with school and college leaders, Ofqual and the DfE to ensure grades can be awarded as fairly as possible this summer.
"We’ve produced clear and detailed guidance on how to determine grades, and our focus has been on how we can best support teachers, ensure compliance with Ofqual and DFE, while keeping the administrative burden on centres as manageable as possible.
"JCQ and the exam boards will continue to support teachers, exam staff, students and their parents/guardians as much as possible on awarding arrangements this summer.”