There is a simple way for government to avoid this shoddy recent history from repeating itself, writes Alison Peacock

Congratulations to all young people celebrating their GCSE grades this week. It is important that students and their families can justifiably celebrate the marks allocated and to use these exam results to ensure that they can take the next steps in their educational career.

The confusion and last-minute U-turns around the exam appeals process and subsequently the decision to rely on Centre Assessed Grades has been an exhausting whirlwind of emotions – yet still we have no results for all those waiting BTEC awards.

The algorithm that Ofqual deployed for exams last week, had already been used to calculate grades for millions of GCSEs. It is a relief that at the eleventh hour the government saw sense and, recognising the stark inequity of grades that were about to be awarded to a significant number of young people, chose to change direction. Teachers and their representatives spoke up immediately, as did wider society, about the unfairness of the Ofqual process that had been in train since March this year. Additionally, it has been really powerful to see the social action of young people clearly and articulately explaining the injustice served whilst also praising the work, dedication and knowledge of their teachers.

Blaming teachers for the ills of wider society is wrong and needs to stop

The Chartered College of Teaching is committed to supporting the profession and advocating for teacher expertise.  The commitment shown across the education sector in recent months has been calm, resolute and inspirational.  This leadership has been reflected again over the last week.  Teachers have been accused nationally of over assessing, of being the cause of grade inflation, of putting the interests of their school performance ahead of individual students.

Actually, we have seen the opposite.  The vast majority of our teachers rigorously followed the guidance issued by Ofqual, scrutinising assessments in the fairest way possible and working together to achieve Centre Assessed Grades.  They worked hard to follow the process they were asked to follow in the false certainty that moderation would fairly take place.

Had teachers been trusted earlier in the process and before any students were given their grades last week, the endemic faults within the computerised moderation system could have been identified sooner.  Had teachers been asked whether the hare-brained notion of using ‘mocks’ as a reliable predictor was a good idea this could have been scotched immediately.  Instead, our profession has had to put up with trial by media with scant regard to the reliability, best intentions and expertise of teachers.

Lack of equity within our society has been starkly brought into relief as we have collectively tried to respond to lockdown.  The harsh impact of COVID-19 particularly for some areas experiencing disadvantage has been shown through the death rates published by the Office of National Statistics.  Often these areas map directly on to those where schools are working against the odds to support their students. In too many cases, students in these schools risked being the ones most unfairly caught out by system-level moderation solutions. Did the government really believe that teachers and young people would stand by and let this happen?

As Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching I am extremely proud of the way our educators have come together over this unnecessary examinations fiasco.  We are supported by parents, by students and by each other.  For too long, teachers have been blamed for many of the ills of wider society. This is wrong and needs to stop. This summer, emboldened by injustice to the very young people we care most about, we were able to insist that politicians see sense.

However, it cannot end there. The government cannot just move onto the next chaotic episode. It needs to learn lessons or it is doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again. This can only happen by listening to the profession, working with us and not forcing decisions upon teachers at the eleventh hour. Trust teachers and respect their expertise; they are the experts and should be the ones to shape the future of teaching. It is this powerful collegiality that we have all shown that will help the profession through the challenges of the months ahead as we fully re-open schools. Thank goodness for our teachers.