Female pupils are being becoming anxious over routine assessments as they fear they could count towards their A-level and GCSE grades, it has been suggested.
Nina Gunson, headteacher of Sheffield Girls’ School, said normal “topic tests” are causing her pupils anxiety as teachers have to tell them they may be used to help determine their grades if summer exams are cancelled again.
Her comments came after Ofqual said that A-level and GCSE students should sit termly assessments to ensure there is enough evidence to determine their grades in the event that exams cannot go ahead next year amid Covid-19.
The Government is committed to formal exams going ahead in England in summer 2022, with adaptations to take account of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on this year’s cohort.
But, under final contingency measures from Ofqual, teachers are being advised to assess students “under exam-like conditions wherever possible” to help inform teacher-assessed grades if exams cannot go ahead.
Speaking at the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) conference, Ms Gunson said: “I don’t think it’s the final exams that’s causing the anxiety; it’s the unknown and the possibility that they might have teacher-assessed grades.
“And the fact that Ofqual have said we have to make it explicitly clear to them every assessment they do may count. So you’ve got teachers trying to downplay those things and using words like ‘tests’ but then also saying ‘but don’t forget these could be used to award your grade in the summer’.”
The girls’ school head said “normal formative assessments” are now causing pupils “lots of anxiety” as they fear they could be used to decide their grades.
Ms Gunson added: “They heard so much last year about the sort of basket of evidence. ‘Oh, my grade could be awarded on this’ when actually it’s just a topic test in the early stage in Year 11.”
Ofqual guidance released earlier this month said it would be “sensible” for teachers to plan to assess students in the second half of the autumn term, the spring term and the first half of the summer term.
But it added that teachers should “guard against over-assessment” and tests should be “as useful as possible” for pupils preparing to take summer exams.
Addressing the impact on pupils, Olivera Raraty, head of Malvern St James’ Girls School in Worcestershire, said: “At one point they thought there was just going to be final exams and now it’s going to come back to the possibility that this assessment data can be used. It’s just the relentless nature of it.”
“It’s that level of uncertainty in terms of how that can play out that will really bear down on them,” she added.
Alex Hutchinson, head of James Allen’s Girls’ School in Dulwich, south-east London, said school leaders are “acutely aware” of the trend of perfectionism among female pupils when it comes to assessment.
Speaking to the media at the two-day event in Manchester, Ms Hutchinson said: “We will say ‘Well done on those GCSE results’ but we’ve rewarded one particular type of thinking and learning and assessment.
“We will always, as heads of girls’ schools, say ‘You are our leaders, you are our entrepreneurs, you’re environmentalists, you are our individuals, you are whoever you want to be.’
“And then an exam system rewards one type of learner, and it’s very contrary to what our broader picture is of the narrative that we have in schools.
“What we want to avoid is a mindset for girls that says ‘I am a success because I have trained myself in this particular type of assessment’. And I think we have a much broader message in education than that.”