I met a woman on a train last week who told me about her two sons currently sitting their GCSEs and A-levels. Stressed teens are difficult to live with, so I commiserated with her. But these teens have it worse than most, she explained: their father died last November. Astonishingly, she told me: “The exam boards can take it into account and give you up to 5% extra marks. But the bereavement has to be within the past six months.” She looked painfully sad for a moment. “Apparently he died two weeks too early.” The Guardian reports.
I Googled, hoping she was wrong, but found she was heartbreakingly correct. I discovered a misery rate card, published each year by the Joint Council of Qualifications. Severe bodily injury at the time of examination gives you 4% extra marks. Physical assault before the exam is 3%. Minor ailments (such as hayfever): 1%.
Exam boards try to be fair. Every year, special consideration is applied for in more than half a million GCSE and A-level exams, and the vast majority are accepted. In my time as a teacher I saw pupils taken out of exams by illness, accidents, even one stuck in an armed hold-up. (Witnessing a distressing event: 3%). Death of a family member provides the highest boost but the rules are harsh: “recent” grief can last four months.
Evidence that death has a lengthy impact on GCSE results is strong. A study in 2004 found that bereaved young people scored on average half a grade below expectation in each exam. A Swedish national cohortstudy found that parental death lowered grades even when controlling for just about every other imaginable factor, including socio-economics, criminality, and parental mental health. And this has a lasting impact, with a recent Danish study finding that bereaved males were up to 26% less likely to get degrees than their peers.
People looking for easy answers might call for the scrapping of GCSEs, or the resurrection of modular exams. Frankly, I don’t think either solution helps. But I do wish exam boards would create ways to bump up results. Universities offer immediate resits each summer, why not for GCSEs and A-levels? Or allow people to continue resitting exams as they get older? If exams were online, each candidate could receive questions relating to the syllabus they studied and have them auto-marked. If you’re doing better at history by age 21, why not have this reflected in updated scores?
Read the full article We’ve constructed a ruthless exam system where bereavement barely matters
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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