Schools thrive on routine: from bells or klaxons every hour, to weekly timetables and the annual plays, prize-givings and sporting events.
But since March, when schools across the country locked-down to a skeleton service, we have lost so many of our punchlines, seasonal celebrations and rites of passage. In my school, there was no shirt-signing last day of term for our pupils. There was no dressing-up for the prom, and no days of silent corridors near the exam hall. This has been incredibly hard on my students, but as a teacher, I too mourn these losses – though they pale in comparison with the loss of life we have experienced in this global pandemic.
Yet it is with much trepidation that we face the final benchmark this week: A-Level results day. With no exams sat due to the pandemic, it’s classroom teachers like myself who have been put into the unenviable position of grading our own students – not for a weekly essay, but for life.
How will our students react on the day they open their results, and how can we console them when teachers have been professor, judge and executioner?
When schools closed with 48 hours notice, our entire job also changed. You will have known about the worksheets, the Zoom calls and the ‘virtual learning hubs’. But at a deeper level teachers have morphed from years of being both strict and also encouraging, from instilling a positive ‘can-do’ approach in our students and telling them that anything really is possible, into a summer term of judging their every move and determining grades which they will have to put on their CVs for the rest of their life.
The burden of judgement weighs heavy on our shoulders. In May, we worried: did we submit high enough teacher-assessed grades? Have we been fair to all students, across all backgrounds, and not just the articulate and well-organised ones? How will our students react on the day they open their results, and how can we console them when teachers have been professor, judge and executioner?
Yet now it is clear that the results awarded on Thursday may not even be the grades that teachers have spent weeks worrying about. As we witnessed in Scotland last week, the exam boards and OFQUAL are predicted to have downgraded 60% of results based purely on statistical modelling. Our judgment as teachers and professionals has been overruled. Our anxiety is now for the unknown – the results on Thursday are completely unpredictable.
Reducing our years of hard work, ambition and widening of horizons to an algorithm on a spreadsheet is heart-breaking.
Teachers like me worry about what will happen to the class of 2020: the positive, dynamic and confident students who worked so hard the last few years. They looked forward to life at university, or to travelling, or to earning their own money – and as teachers it has been our job and privilege to get them on track. But already the class of 2020 have had opportunities taken from them at every turn: no one would choose a socially-distanced first year at university, no one can encourage them to travel the world, and no one can promise them that jobs will be available.
Reducing our years of hard work, ambition and widening of horizons to an algorithm on a spreadsheet is heart-breaking. The government must stop pretending that 2020 is a normal year, trust teachers, and ensure our students have the most positive of A-Level results day which truly reflect their efforts. In a year of broken promises and lost opportunities, our teachers and students deserve a period of celebration – albeit distanced from each other this time.
Vix Lowthion is a sixth form history, classics and geology teacher on the Isle of Wight. Follow her on Twitter at @VixL
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