Exams 2021: Leaders fear pressure from parents with ‘pointy elbows and lawyer friends’


School leaders fear the switch to teacher assessment instead of exams this year will lead to pressure to adjust grades from parents with “pointy elbows and lawyer friends”.

Richard Sheriff, president of the ASCL school leaders’ union and chief executive of the Red Kite Learning Trust, said he feared more privileged parents would try to influence their children’s grades, which if successful could increase the attainment gap.

This year, GCSE, A-level and some vocational exams will be replaced with teacher assessment grades, which will be subject to external quality assurance by exam boards.

The government has said it is putting its trust in teachers this year after problems with the computer algorithm used last year, but leaders have expressed fears that this will leave teachers to shoulder the blame if anything goes wrong.

During a press conference today to launch ASCL’s annual conference, Sheriff said the potential pressure from parents was “a worry in all kinds of ways”.

“If something’s going to widen the gap in terms of attainment and achievement, it’s going to be those parents who’ve got pointy elbows and lawyer friends to push their children up while those in more underprivileged areas don’t have that opportunity.

“That really worries me. And I know as the chief executive of a trust where we’ve got a school in a very comparatively wealthy area and one in a poorer area, the one in the poorer area, the headteacher’s not worried at all about pressure from parents, but we’re very worried at the other school and are still dealing with stuff from last year.”

Talk of ‘negotiation’ between pupils and teachers ‘unhelpful’

The government has said schools will be expected to will be expected to tell students the evidence on which their grades are to be based before the results are submitted to exam boards.

And Ofqual’s interim chief regulator Simon Lebus told the education select committee this week that this would give an “opportunity for a student to say if they think that the evidence that has been used does not accurately reflect the best of their ability”.

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said the intervention was unhelpful.

“To hear the chief regulator saying that there will be a negotiation between a young person and their teacher around what evidence and what grade they get, that’s certainly not the way we saw that, and we’ve been in very close discussions with all the awarding organisations and with Ofqual.

“And essentially, it isn’t helpful for that to become a negotiation. Of course we’ll show you the range of evidence we’re going to be using, but ultimately it’s not my decision as a teacher and it’s not my team of teachers’ decision, it will be the awarding organisation who by definition will be awarding…and anything I think that blurs that line is unhelpful.”

ASCL has already “seen examples where parents have been emailing teachers, individual teachers, saying ‘my daughter wants to be a doctor in the future, she needs to get a grade 9 in chemistry at GCSE’ or whatever it is,” Barton added.

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