This year, more than ever, schools can make all the difference on results day

Last week we experienced the extraordinary turmoil around A Level results. In the face of the downgrading debacle, students now have the option to use the grades provided by teachers. Unfortunately that Government announcement came too late for many to take up university places this year.

Whether through inherent biases in the system, incompetency in those in charge of the process, or a mixture of both, the awarding of grades in a year when exams were not taken has become a farce. But while A level students, and their aspirations for their educational future have been caught in the middle of that farce, the same need not be true for GCSE students.

For most students, progression from GCSEs will be to sixth forms and FE colleges. It’s those sixth forms and colleges that have the power to make a difference on results day, despite the controversies that have led up to it.

At the time of writing I’m not exactly sure what grades year 11 (including my own son) will be getting on Thursday – those from Ofqual’s algorithm? the CAGs? The best of the two, or perhaps one this week and the other next? does anybody know?!*

Whatever is in those envelopes, school staff will know the grades that they gave students and are in the position to offer them their next educational opportunity. For GCSEs, this means that it’s schools that are in the position to tackle each of the iniquities – of disadvantage, school type, geography, and background- that arose for the A Level results. whatever the failures of the system set up to deliver grades this year, those failures don’t have to impact on the class of 2020.

It’s been an extraordinary year. Now, more than ever, students deserve access to the extraordinary individual futures that sixth form and college education can provide. Some schools have already announced their intention to provide this, I hope all will follow.

*Today (Wednesday 19/8/20) My son’s school notified parents that they would be emailing the highest grade for each subject out of the CAG and algorithm-generated grade.

Computing, creativity and cheating

Creativity and coding

I believe that creativity is at the heart of computing. A couple of years ago I marked the passing of the creator of Logo, Seymour Papert with this post on his legacy. He created and promoted that computer language to foster creativity in students. The focus on creativity also drives many of the current generation of educational developers. Scratch, a free online scripting language allows all users, most of whom are children, to create and share stories, games, and animations. Created in 2007, Scratch now has more than 4.3 million users worldwide, mainly between the ages of 8 and 18, and nearly 7 million projects. It is used widely in UK schools and is many children’s first experience of scripting code instructions. Creativity is also a driving feature behind other computing innovations commonly used in UK schools such as the coding language Python, the Raspberry Pi and BBC Microbit.

Problems with assessment

If we accept this central role of creativity, it follows that the assessment of computational thinking, and its practical output as novel solutions to coding problems, must take account of this. Unfortunately, in recent years the assessment of GCSE Computer Science coursework has been bedevilled by the appearance of programming solutions to the set problems on the internet. This has forced the exams regulator, Ofqual, to remove this element from the assessment. The current situation is that a programming task forms part of the course, but marks do not form part of the assessment, which is therefore based solely on terminal exam papers. Unfortunately this is an issue that occurs not just at GCSE, but at all levels of education.

Ofqual consultation

Ofqual are currently consulting on this issue for exams from 2020 onwards through a consultation document on the future of assessment for GCSE Computer Science. You can respond to the consultation document here.

I think that they have thought carefully about the pros and cons about different methods of assessment. I am disappointed, however, that there is not more explicit mention of creativity in Computer Science. Ofqual make a comparison with other subjects with a coursework element, such as design technology, but this seems to be in consideration of practical skills which, while important, are not the whole picture. I feel that what is missing is the role of creativity in the elements and practice of computational thinking.

Nevertheless, I think Ofqual have left the door open to a solution that will allow students to demonstrate creativity in their thinking. In enabling exam boards to issue pre-release material to candidates (in a similar way to creative subjects such as art), there is scope for students to think and prepare for a creative response to a particular context, without the details of the specific task being revealed. I hope that in the future, developments in technology will mean that creative computational thinking can be securely assessed in a way that more closely mirrors the reality of programming than the exam hall.

The consultation closes at 4pm on Monday 3rd December 2018. I would urge anyone involved in teaching computing to take some time to make a response.

Image: Pixabay