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Current UK-based exam assessment methods: Are they accurate?

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By Mr. John Maguire, Executive Headmaster of the British School of Bahrain

Among many exports from the United Kingdom to the Gulf Region is its educational system. The popularity of a British Education is evident within the numerous successful British international schools within the Middle East, many of whom are at the pinnacle of international educational best practice. Globally minded parents are drawn to the challenging nature of a British Education that is renowned for stretching children academically while nurturing them pastorally in a holistic educational setting.

The careful balance between innovation, rigour and individual support makes a British Education a compelling prospect for parents who aspire to enable their children to apply for some of the best universities in the world. The question is, do the current assessment methods of UK based examinations meet the same educational philosophy of the schools that follow this system? The global pandemic has further revealed the potential shortfalls of what is, in fact, a brilliant educational system.

Even the most basic of research into employability skills reveals a demand from modern employers for staff with attributes such as flexibility, problem-solving and an ability to access, select and analyse information from appropriate sources. These skills are often combined with a need to present and communicate orally, being technological literate and an overall ability to write accurately using a word processor. The commonality between professions for these skills should be shaping educational systems throughout the world. However, the current methods of assessment of many educational provisions rely on a system of examinations formed decades ago and that continue to test an altogether different set of skills. The majority of examinations systems, including IGCSEs, A-Levels and the International Baccalaureate, demand assessments written by hand, for long periods of time, reliant on memory, often at only one point in a year, with limited use of technology and very little practical application. While this stark contract in differences between employability skills and educational assessment methods exists, there will always be a demand for educational reform.

The impact of the global pandemic has gone further to highlight the inadequacies of the existing examination assessment structure. The 2020 and 2021 forced cancellations of terminal examinations led to a reliance on teacher-assessed grades. Now, the repercussions of this temporary measure are being recognised. The subsequent rise in the number of the top grades awarded has inevitably led to political pressure within the United Kingdom that will ripple down to all international schools. Accusations of grade inflation and teachers over exaggerating students’ prospects have been forthcoming, most notably in the UK media on 6th February 2022. Sadly, and in my opinion, far too quickly, the reaction has been a demand to return to the long-established, albeit flawed, protocols of terminal written examinations. These demands have been fueled by an unwillingness to change. It is conceivable that teachers worldwide took the opportunity to apply a holistic approach to their grade awarding. Rather than rely on one piece of evidence from a highly pressured examination, they looked for potential and consistency of performance in each student over a period of time. While this form of assessment might have yielded higher grades, it is arguably a more accurate reflection of a student’s consistency of performance and thereby be much more valuable to future employers. Therefore, is the return of terminal written examinations really the way forward?

Qualification awarding bodies have for many years recognised the challenges faced by the current system of written examinations. Pearson Education, the dominant powerhouse within the UK educational sector, is currently piloting secure online assessments. For the first time, large-scale GCSE examinations are being sat around the world using online systems. This is no mean undertaking, and my own school can testify to the challenges that come with having 250 students simultaneously sitting an online examination. However, provided that this large-scale worldwide pilot is successful, it is the first step in reforming a system that does not currently reward the skills needed in a modern workforce. The opportunities presented by an online system allow for greater interaction and application of knowledge, not just a reliance on memory. These reforms will go further in supporting British Education schools within the Gulf region, many of whom are sector leading with their innovation and educational developments, preparing their students to become leaders in various fields both within the Middle East and worldwide.

British School of Bahrain, Hamala

The British School of Bahrain (BSB) was established in 1995 and is celebrating over 26 years of delivering an outstanding English National curriculum to students based in Bahrain. Over this last quarter-century, it has evolved and grown considerably with students from 90 nationalities. The British School of Bahrain benefits substantially from being a proud member of Inspired, a leading global schools group operating on five continents with over 70 schools worldwide. By being a member of Inspired, the British School of Bahrain is able to access global partnerships and programs which individual schools cannot access. The British School of Bahrain’s credo is to place the student at the centre of their own education, as expressed in the school’s vision: Excellence, Responsibility, Individuality.

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