31 March 2020

First of all, I hope this finds you safe and well in what are unprecedented times in the UK. The health emergency we face is of such gravity that the measures recently taken to close down our education and training sectors for the foreseeable future have rapidly become part of the ‘new normal’ that we all have to accept.

Having said that, I am very conscious that the cancellation of National Curriculum Tests (SATs), GCSEs, A Levels and a range of vocational assessments and examinations represents a huge shock that will have a major impact on our members in many ways, personally and professionally. For examiners, markers, verifiers, moderators and other assessment professionals contracted on a part-time, per task basis, it means taking an unforeseen and significant financial ‘hit’.  For many of the thousands who annually undertake this work, it often represents a significant part of their income. However, perhaps the bigger loss will be missing out on what is an intellectually challenging and rewarding task.

The impact on the current cohort of students due to take assessments of all descriptions is even bigger. However, we do know that our system operates on the basis of ensuring that these students are treated fairly and not disadvantaged compared to those in previous and future years. At the time of writing, the processes that Ofqual and the awarding bodies will use to issue GCSE and A Level awards to students have yet to be finalised. However, we know from the initial statements issued so far (see links below) that the processes will build on those used previously in exceptional circumstances. Results will be determined by a combination that will include work already or about to be completed, students’ prior attainment, teachers’ assessments of performance and predicted grades.  The processes will be underpinned by rigorous statistical analyses that are utilised by awarding bodies.

If anything good is to come out of the current circumstances for the ‘assessment industry’ once we are out of our current predicament, I hope it will provide an opportunity for some clear thinking about what is important in our systems.  It might be a naïve hope, but is it too much to expect policy-makers to reflect on some fundamentals about the taken-for-granted assessment system?  And ask the basic questions that teachers and lecturers, parents and students regularly ask themselves: do we need all the arrangements we previously had in place? Why do we do what we currently do and how we do it? Are there better ways to assess our students while giving them the recognition their achievements warrant and progression opportunities require? What’s the purpose and the value added? Can the money saved be better spent elsewhere on assessments in our education and training system?

Things may never be quite the same again. And that could just turn out to be a good thing for educational assessment in the UK.

To all CIEA members and their families my message is: I hope you all stay safe.

Simon Sharp, Chair