Fine, thank you. What difference would it make if I wasn’t?
May I call you Caroline?
How many children do you have in school?
Usually over 2000. Between 30 and 60 since Monday.
Weren’t you annoyed at the sudden closure? How could you get ready for remote learning overnight?
All schools had to be ready for lockdown from September. It’s been a long night.
What about the exams?
That’s a vg q. The PM cancelled the exams on Monday and Mr Williamson says they’ll be replaced with teacher-based assessments.
How do you feel about that?
Fine and dandy. It’s the only remotely fair possible solution. As a teacher it's good to see someone learning from their mistakes and trying to improve.
Won’t teachers inflate the grades so that they’re meaningless and no one has a proper qualification and the world ends?
No, calm down. As long as results are used wisely everyone will play their part honestly. Since you’ve asked, might I rant on about this for a bit?
The ring is yours. Knock yourself out.
Thank you. Problem A is how to grade the children. They’re not less clever than children in previous years, they just know less stuff. Problem B is that our exam-based system uses memory as a proxy for intellect so we struggle to decouple exams from learning. Problem C is that this particular exam-based system rations grades so you can only get a grade 5 if someone else doesn’t. Problem D is that you’re much more likely to get a grade 5 if you’ve been really well taught and you’ve done all the homework, which depends on your school and home life. Problem E is that there is a teacher shortage and the schools serving the poorest have trouble recruiting teachers. Problem F is that if you are poor, you’re less likely to have the space to do the homework or parents with the time to help you or a good laptop and connection for the online stuff, so you might get a worse grade because you haven’t been able to keep up. Problem G is that government describes a third of grades as a fail. So, you might be trying really hard against the odds and end up with a fail.
That’s why schools have to stay open! It’s all fair then!
Had I finished?
Sorry, carry on.
None of this is new. The achievement gap between poor children and richer children is hard-wired into our system. The current GCSE model makes it worse. We’ve been campaigning about this for years, but the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that proved that Heads were enemies of promise with the soft bigotry of low expectations, also enslaved to The Blob.
Mr Gove? I’ve seen worse. The exam system? Hmmm. We need a different way of assessing learning. We could start by agreeing that exams are a measure, not the purpose, of education. Might we do that this year, as part of all this, d’you think?
Search me. Ahem. What about the Beetex?
They’re more flexible. The school or college can decide on the configuration of exams and coursework for each candidate, within reason, although since 2016 there are more exams in it. We don’t really understand why.
No, sorry, that was a lie. We absolutely understand why. It’s because there’s a doctrinaire elitist view afoot at Sanctuary Buildings that all learning has to be validated by exams which a portion of the cohort have to fail, or else they look too easy. Are you sure there isn’t another question you should ask about this?
Curses, you rumbled me. What are Beetex?
Well done, I thought you were struggling. It’s always best to ask when you don’t understand. First, snappier pronunciation please – Be-tek. No bees. Second, BTECs are the qualifications organised by the Business and Technology Education Council. They run alongside GCSEs and A levels, you can mix ‘em up, and they’re based on the world of work. They’re modular, and you can resit bits of them. They’re useful qualifications and most universities like them.
Why don’t I know this?
Same way that the PM and Mr Williamson didn’t appear to know or care that they existed. Because of our ridiculous system that prioritises academic qualifications over anything with a vocational slant. Your editor probably thinks they fall into the category of ‘courses for other peoples’ children’ but then he may be a fool.
I’m not allowed to think like that, but thanks. May I move on?
Knock yourself out.
Shall we have mock exams?
Yes. We need to find out how the children are doing so we know what to remedy.
Isn’t that too stressful?
Not for most. We can make arrangements for others.
Are you Covid-testing at school? Who?
Yes, we’re all ready. Tables, screens, swabs, people, the lot. Staff, at the moment. Children who are in school next. The Local Authority is helping us.
What about the children who’ll be really frightened by this?
What do you take us for?
What do you think of the PM?
I’ve seen better.
How stressed are you?
Not very. I’m pretty old.
How annoyed with the government are you?
On a scale of 1-10? 400.
Can I ring you up?
Happy to oblige. Ask me about the National Tutoring Programme.