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10 August 2021

The Monday Briefing: Remember the time

The Monday Briefing: Remember the time

With examination grades having been determined in such a unique manner this year, and stories in the broadsheet media circulating already of grade inflation ‘ruining academic rigour’ and ‘selling our children short’ (apparently an A should now stand for airhead in the view of one commentator), it feels right to offer a strong and impassioned defence of the work undertaken by leadership teams, teachers, support staff and, above all, the students themselves during this unprecedented academic year. In this sense, I agree entirely with the General Secretary of the NEU Teaching Union, Dr Mary Bousted, who has described teachers as ‘heroes’ who worked under ‘immense and unnecessary pressure.’

Covid has pushed all of those in education to their limit, and the response has been truly impressive, despite the naysayers. Having gone through another extensive bout of online learning, the introduction of Lateral Flow Testing, bubbles, increased safety measures and the cancellation of the exam system, I am extremely proud of what has been accomplished, not only at the College, but across the entire profession.

When the dust settles, yes - these will be our best results ever, with our highest percentage of A and A* grades, and we will also have the highest proportion of our students attaining AAB grades or better that we have ever achieved, but this is not our justification for celebration - and nor should any schools or colleges be celebrating such achievements as their own.

It is the students, and the staff who have supported them, who deserve the credit for emerging from such a tough time with such grit and determination. Results this year are incomparable to any other, and should be seen as just that. Students have been through hell this year - but as Winston Churchill recommended, they have simply kept going. They deserve a handsome reward for such resilience. Many may well say that the results are devalued or that students have bypassed the challenges that those in previous years have faced but I can’t disagree more vehemently. In my opinion, the results retain full integrity, and students this year have undergone and coped with a more gruelling range of trials, obstacles and tests. They should all be thoroughly proud of their efforts.

Personally, I am very pleased with what we have achieved at the College. We were able to maintain the day to day running of the College, were not hit by any ‘positive’ LFT results, even when opening up to external candidates who needed a welcoming environment to sit their assessments, and thrived in the delivery of online learning for the two months in which it had to be in place. I’m also extremely happy with how our approach to determining Teacher Assessed Grades gave students the best possible chance to succeed. We fully understood just how tumultuous this year was in their lives, but made it clear as early as possible how we intended to reward their efforts. They saw this and supported it, and strived to do the best they could. I understand that the whole system could not have worked without the commitment of staff at the College, but when asked to put the needs of students first, they did not hesitate to step up.

Of course, I’m particularly looking forward to welcoming students back to the College to pick up their results. This marks the highlight of any academic year for me: to see the relief upon opening their results envelope; to share their excitement in accepting university offers; to reminisce about their time at the College.

It is of the utmost importance that students reflect on this year, and use it as a means to celebrate their growth as well as their results. Their sense of achievement should not be diminished in any way, despite what some might purport over the coming days. That they have got through this year in the way they have should be heralded as an excellent achievement - this is what I will remember of them.

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