With over 25 years of teaching experience and 15 years as principal, this was one of the most upsetting results days I have experienced.
fter arriving in school on Wednesday excited about downloading the A-level results, this quickly turned to upset when I had seen how many pupils’ grades were marked down at A-level.
I was expecting, as St Kevin’s College was ranked as the highest performing non-selective school in 2019 and second highest non-selective school in 2018, that this year’s A-level results would follow the student cohort pattern from when these pupils were doing GCSEs one or two years ago. But no — approximately 65% of Year 14 A-level pupils had A-levels downgraded with the CCEA Exam Board. The picture with other exam boards was better than this, down slightly.
It was with a heavy heart that I awoke this morning to release grades and speak to pupils and parents.
Normally I take delight chatting with pupils and parents on results day and congratulating them, but not this year.
I was consoling them and offering a shoulder to cry on and a possible hope of an appeal to help their well-being and mental health, with the knowledge that this could take weeks and months to sort out — if ever.
In all my years as principal I have never had to deal with so many upset pupils and parents as this year.
I understand this is a very difficult process to estimate A-level and GCSE grades with the Covid-19 outbreak.
But why ask teachers to spend days and weeks examining past pupil work, holding standardisation meetings online and socially distanced in school and entering marks for the majority of the teacher predictions to be downgraded as we did in our school and most schools across Northern Ireland?
It is not all doom and gloom - the vast majority of our pupils have got their first preference course at university, which is good, our three A*-C pass rate is up on last year.
But what we have discovered is that it is the high performing pupils’ grades that have been downgraded most and that Northern Ireland CCEA exams have been downgraded more than any English exam board.
Pupils are saying “you know me Sir or Miss – I am much better than these grades. Look at my exams in school, my coursework, my GCSE results”.
They say: “I might have got into university but I have to carry these results for the rest of my life and put them down on every application form I write – what does this say about me”. I have had lots of parents and pupils in tears today – normal we get four to five appeals on a normal exam result day. This year it’s more like 50 to 60.
I don’t often complain, but when there is such an injustice, I feel we must speak out for our young people both here and across the whole of Northern Ireland.
Gary Kelly is principal of St Kevin’s College, Lisnaskea