School exams and Covid: what could the UK have learned from EU?

UK/August 13, 2020/Source:

Amid the coronavirus crisis, most countries avoided the rows and recriminations experienced in Britain.

School leaving exams were cancelled, postponed or adapted because of the coronavirus crisis in countries across Europe, but most have avoided the rows, recriminations and abrupt about-turns experienced in the UK.

In a few countries, school-leaver exams were maintained or only slightly delayed. Germany’s 16 states, which decide education policy, were initially divided over whether the Abitur exams that are required in order to be accepted for university should go ahead.

Despite nationwide school closures until Easter and the opposition of some state governments, which had wanted grades to be awarded on coursework and school tests, the 16 states agreed in late March that the exams should take place as planned.

Some students protested, pleading health concerns, revision difficulties and undue psychological pressure, but the exams were held – in well-aired classrooms rather than big halls, and with smaller numbers of students sitting at least 1.5 metres apart.

In the event, several states reported results that were marginally higher than usual, thanks – educationalists speculate – less to a subconscious “corona-bonus” during marking than to the fact that Germany’s Covid-19 restrictions meant students had fewer distractions and were more focused on their work.

In Italy, about 500,000 students took the oral part of their high-school diploma exams in mid-June, the first time they had returned to school since early March. The exam’s written papers were cancelled and students had to wear face masks.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia postponed end-of-school exams, but France cancelled its entire baccalauréat exam programme for the first time since its introduction under Napoleon in 1808. The oral component of the exam went ahead even amid the protests and national upheaval of May 1968.

The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced in April that the country’s 740,000 final-year students would be awarded an average grade for each subject based on coursework and tests during the first two terms. Local juries assessed and – if necessary – adjusted students’ grades according to national averages and on schools’ past examination records.

The pass rate for the 2020 bac was over 95%, more than seven percentage points higher than the previous year, forcing the government last month to create about 10,000 extra university places for September in the most popular subject areas.

The Netherlands, too, recorded a higher pass rate after its central school leaving exams were cancelled, with schools awarding final marks on the basis of course work and the schools’ own tests, which pupils were also allowed to resit.

A survey by the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad found almost five times as many high schools as usual reported a 100% pass rate. The education ministry has rejected claims that the high pass rate meant the exams had been devalued.

“This group of pupils had to take school exams under unexpected and difficult circumstances,” a spokeswoman told the newspaper, adding that the cancellation of the central exams meant pupils had more time to study for the school exams.

Candidates for Spain’s university entrance exam, the selectividad, were allowed this year to choose three out of five questions, and were not examined on anything studied since the country entered lockdown in mid-March.

Overall, the Spanish pass rate was within one percentage point of the result for 2019, except in Catalonia where 67% more students managed a score of 9 – out of a possible 10 – than in the previous year.

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School exams and Covid: what could the UK have learned from EU? – Sarraute Educación María Magdalena

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