'Work harder than ever': Harrogate headteacher's message to students amid more A-level and GCSE uncertainty

The headteacher of a Harrogate secondary school has urged all students fearful of their futures to "keep working harder than ever" after formal A-level and GCSE exams were cancelled due to a surge in Covid cases.

Thursday, 14th January 2021, 10:10 am
Updated Thursday, 14th January 2021, 10:14 am

Richard Sheriff, executive headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School, said the government's decision to replace most exams with teacher-assessed grades was "disappointing for everyone" but added it was "imperative" for students to keep focused on learning during the current country-wide school closures.

He said school and college leaders were still seeking clarity on exactly how this summer's assessments will work as it has emerged some tests could still go-ahead towards the end of the summer term.

"My message to students is do not stop working," Mr Sheriff said. "Your end of year grades will still be assessed - most likely by teachers - so please keep working harder than ever as the stuff you learn now will go on to define what you do in your higher education and career.

Richard Sheriff, executive headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School and chief executive at Red Kite Learning Trust.

"It is also so important for the well-being and mental health of students to keep a focus on learning during this difficult time."

Mr Sheriff, who is also chief executive of Red Kite Learning Trust which has 13 schools in Yorkshire, said the government was right to plan for exams and that it will now be key students are given the "fairest results possible" under the new system which has ditched the algorithm that led to controversy last summer as school estimates were downgraded.

He said: "We have got to make sure students are not given chocolate money, they need real currency that is going to give them the real deal of grades later in life, not grades which universities or employers will look down on.

"The system we had in place for last summer made perfect sense - I and many leaders were fully supportive of it but it was the algorithm alone which made it an absolute nightmare with such terrible effects on the confidence and well-being of students, families and teachers.

"Planning for exams this time was the right thing to do because it is the fairest way of measuring ability and students wanted the opportunity to prove themselves.

"But what I would say is there has been a misjudgement from the government in that it refused the direction from many people in the profession that a plan B would be needed, and that is what we are now desperately trying to put together.

"It was very disappointing for everyone when the Secretary of State stood up to announce most exams were cancelled but what we did not hear from him was; 'don't worry - we have a plan which we are fine tuning now'.

"I would find it very hard to believe that he had a plan B ready to go in his pocket."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this week revealed A-Level and GCSE students could be asked to sit mini external exams to help teachers with their assessments.

The potential new tests would reportedly be created by exam boards and could be taken towards the end of the summer term - in hopes that schools will be fully reopened.

In a letter to the exams regulator, Ofqual, Mr Williamson said this would help teachers to decide "deserved grades".

"A breadth of evidence should inform teachers' judgements, and the provision of training and guidance will support teachers to reach their assessment of a student's deserved grade," he said.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter