If we had someone with imagination as secretary of state for education, we would be looking forward to a summer of active, creative and inspiring activities for our youngsters. They would harness the skills of under-employed actors, writers, artists, musicians and technicians to run a festival of learning away from Zoom and textbooks. They would pay the outreach teams at museums, art galleries and theatres to restart their best projects. They would work with the community branches of sports clubs up and down the country to develop children’s physical and mental fitness.
They would fund conservation groups, ramblers, wildlife trusts and city farms to extend their work with young people and get them out into the open spaces of towns, cities and countryside. They would recognise that you can learn and “catch up” with the help of people other than a tutor (Poorer primary pupils in England up to seven months behind due to Covid, 23 February). They would value teamwork and collaboration as much as individual learning and competition for exam results.
But we don’t have someone with imagination. We have Gavin Williamson. Which national bodies could petition the government for the funds to get this off the ground as a matter of urgency?
• The need to find an alternative to school exams during the pandemic (Teachers to get sweeping powers to decide exam results in England, 25 February) is understandable. But having taught in a school and in universities during a long academic career, I believe that giving teachers the exclusive right and responsibility to determine the grades awarded to their own students would be bad for both the students and the teachers, as it would risk undermining the trust that is so essential to a good student-teacher relationship.
So, at the very least, some form of independent review and oversight of teacher-awarded grades needs to be included in such a scheme. In universities, such review and oversight is usually referred to as “moderation”, whereby grades awarded to students by teachers are reviewed by the teaching staff as a group, and/or by an academic from another university, before being finalised. This reduces the risk of grade inflation, as well as the risk that grades may be awarded on the basis of considerations other than academic merit, and the associated likelihood of a flood of appeals.
Philip C Stenning
• Fifty years ago, when we still had Certificate of Secondary Education exams, schools were allowed to set and mark their own exams: these were known as Mode 3 CSE. I reckon our Mode 3 English CSE – at Holloway school, north London – was more rigorous, more interesting, and a better way of assessing young people’s learning than any other exams I’ve taught, marked or moderated ever since. If we trust teachers to teach our kids, then why can’t we trust their skills of assessment? If you can’t assess where the kids are at, you can’t teach them.
Dr Cary Bazalgette
• Oh dear, it seems as though this years GCSEs are already subject to grade inflation. Two polite young people being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s World at One on Thursday, when asked to give Gavin Williamson a GCSE grade, apologetically stated that they thought he hadn’t done very well and awarded him a C!