It’s always the sign that the end (of the holidays) is nigh – A-level results day this Thursday.
As exams officer, I’ll be doing quite a bit about this tomorrow. I have to download the results from the exam boards and import them into our system (this seldom goes completely smoothly – something crashes or doesn’t import and has to be entered manually). Then it all has to be printed out and collated, ready to give the kids on Thursday. I have various documents to prepare or print – explanations of grade boundaries, info on getting re-marks etc. Of course the results are strictly embargoed at this stage – the kids certainly can’t have them, and only am extremely restricted range of staff can see them. I must confess I do look at how people have done, though – I can’t just regard it as an admin task when it involves pupils I know and particularly those I’ve taught.
This year is going to be particularly interesting as the new AS specifications came in for quite a few subjects, including the sciences, which are taken by the majority of our sixth formers. The content and style of the specification and exams had definitely changed, and many of the kids said the exams were a bit nasty, so it’ll definitely be quite tense looking at those.
I guess I’d get a bit less uptight about results if they weren’t such a political football. I think the government wants to be seen to make things more rigorous, which means, I fear, the law being laid down on what the exam boards can do with grade boundaries. I know exam boards can get a bad press, but I really would rather have the criteria for an A set by the examining team who’ve actually looked at the papers and have experience of what candidates achieved, rather than some know-it-all politician out to make a point. And of course, this is a no-win situation. If results improve, everyone says exams have got easier. If they don’t improve, teachers aren’t delivering.
I’d always be feeling a bit nervous about how the kids had got on, though, anyway. How could I not? I care about them – I want them to get the university places they’ve set their heart on. I know some cynics think we teachers are only anxious because of how it reflects on us – but that is absolutely wrong. Sure, if all my class underachieve, I might well get asked a few pointed questions, as would my head of department – but it makes way more difference to them than me how they do, so I’ll be pleased for them if they’ve got what they want, and disappointed if they haven’t, whatever it says on my class’s value-added data.
Of course schools have to be concerned with how their data looks in the league tables. That doesn’t mean that their leadership think it’s more important than the pupils – of course they don’t. It’s because we’re stuck with a damnfool system that regards a school as only as good as its latest results, with no regard for natural variability, context or anything else.