Reflecting on the TAG process

Michael Chiles FCCT – Geography Head of Department and Chartered College Council Member reflects on the TAG process.

Without a doubt, the last academic year has been challenging for all teachers and school leaders who have worked tirelessly while we have been riding the waves of the pandemic. As we approach A-level and GCSE results week, I firmly believe that as a profession, the collective body of teachers and school leaders has demonstrated resilience in pursuit of achieving the best for every single one of their students.

Reflecting on the process, one of the most frustrating aspects for me has been the lack of coherence and consistency from the DfE. The communication for key changes to the process of how pupils’ grades would be determined changed too many times during the academic year, which created additional hurdles for school leaders and teachers to navigate. But ultimately the ones who suffered the most from the past turbulent year were the students. I remember my pupils asking questions about what would be happening during the autumn term when as a country we were dealing with the winter wave. All communication from the DfE was that pupils would still be sitting their exams in some format. We then had the advance notice and content slimming down, which to me seemed the most appropriate strategy given the circumstances. At this point, it seemed we had a plan we could navigate to best prepare our pupils.

As we know, this quickly changed following the festive break and we were thrust into a second stint of remote learning following the Prime Minister’s announcement on the first Monday back in January. It felt as if all the hard work school leaders had put into a safe return for the New Year had gone to waste. At the same press conference, there was the announcement that I hadn’t expected to be made so early – the cancelling of A-level and GCSE exams for summer 2021. True to government style, there wasn’t a clear plan of action at this point. From January until further information was published by the DfE and Ofqual in April, teachers were left to provide pupils with answers that we just didn’t have in terms of what would be happening for the awarding of their grades.

Finally, the announcement on the TAG progress was published. On reflection, at this point, I didn’t anticipate the sheer volume of work that was inevitably put on teachers and school leaders to ensure that pupils would receive grades for the summer. For me, the most important part was to ensure that all pupils received a fair grade that reflected their hard work over the past 2 to 3 years. For this to happen, like many other schools up and down the country, we put in place a series of assessments that would allow pupils to demonstrate the progress they had made using the exam board papers. These were standardised, marked, moderated and reviewed alongside the work our pupils had produced over the course of their A-level and GCSE courses, before arriving at a holistic grade.

Throughout the TAG progress, this put tremendous stress on teachers, from the facilitation of the assessments within schools, marking them, and endless meetings to arriving at an overall judgement for each individual pupil. As a profession, we have started to see a positive shift in teacher workload in the last few years, but the TAG process certainly put pressure on this.

However, we did get over the finish line and we can hold our heads high that we have done the best we can for the pupils in our care. Whatever the outcomes this week, the one I do hope for is that any grade fluctuations for this year’s cohort, the blame for this change doesn’t fall at the feet of teachers who were handed the baton during difficult times.