With exams cancelled for the second year running, many students are understandably anxious about what this means for their qualifications and the potential impact this may have on their education in the future.
The teacher assessed grading system has been brought in to replace traditional exams and asks teachers to draw on a range of evidence from their students’ work across the year to conclude their mark.
But what impact will this have on students with Special Educational Needs (SEN)?
The teacher assessed grading system requires each pupil to build a significant portfolio of work from across the year to demonstrate their understanding of each subject. Many students with SEN struggle to convey their understanding and ideas in a written format. They may have a perfectly solid understanding of the topic but will face a challenge when it comes to building up sufficient quantity, and quality, of written work needed to convey this.
Putting this in context, the change in teaching formats throughout the year has had a significant impact on students, which for many will be reflected in their portfolios of work. Although vulnerable students, including those with Educational Healthcare Plans (EHCPs), have been allowed to continue their education on site, many have chosen to remain online due to concerns around the virus. Struggles with virtual learning such as the ability to comprehend non-verbal cues have impacted their learning, especially in group environments where teachers may not easily be able to adapt their teaching style to every individual student in the class.
There is also a concern about how remote learning may have impacted students with undiagnosed learning difficulties. Although many schools and teachers have done fantastic jobs of developing remote learning programmes, the interactivity and communication between student and teacher is not the same through a screen. This means that teachers may have missed small indicators of specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyscalculia that otherwise would have been picked up on. These students will unfortunately miss out on special consideration in this year’s grading system, which may be given a lower grade as a result.
For the students who did remain onsite, they have also been impacted by the changes to classroom setting and routines. Reduced student numbers and new hygiene and distancing measures have been difficult for students who already struggle with anxiety, and for many this has impacted their performance in class and ability to focus on set tasks.
However, every student is unique, as is every special educational need and for some, the change in assessment methods have the potential to bring about positive change. Having more flexibility in assessment methods, including oral, project work, and mock examinations, may allow some SEN students to perform better. Teachers will have more freedom to pick and choose between assessment tools that suit each student.
Last year schools were asked not to discuss the grades they were planning to predict with students, as they would be moderated by the algorithm. However, following controversies last year, the algorithm has been dropped for 2021, leaving teachers free to discuss their predictions, which means students have more opportunity to work towards improving their grades where needed.
Despite the potential negative impact for some, what the introduction of teacher assessed grades has done is to open the door to individualised forms of assessment, which could ultimately allow teachers to more accurately assess SEN students who underperform in high pressure environments such as examinations. Were this assessment system to be rolled out across the board, it has the potential to put far too much pressure on teachers. However, it does pave the way for exam exemption and teacher assessed grades to be applied in a similar way that access arrangements such as extra time or using a laptop are used, as an alternative to exams for those who struggle.