Sign our open letter to Gavin Williamson

Dear Gavin Williamson,

We the undersigned education staff are writing to express our utter dismay at your department’s handling of the process of awarding qualification grades to GCSE, A-level, BTEC and other vocational students this year.

After the chaos of last year’s results – and with most exams cancelled for a second year running – secondary, sixth form and further education (FE) teachers, lecturers, head teachers and principals dearly hoped the Government had learned a lesson. However, once again ministers have failed to adequately plan and prepare a system to give fairness to our students and educators have been left to pick up the pieces.

As professionals, we are prepared to work hard to ensure our students receive the grades they deserve, particularly at the end of a year when they have experienced such huge disruption to their education, through no fault of their own. But it is unacceptable that school and college staff have been forced, by your inaction, to bear the brunt of huge additional workloads in order to make the system work; worse still that this situation was foreseeable, and you were repeatedly warned of the urgent need for a Plan B over many months.

Marking assessment or evidence of student performance for grades has added an average 12 hours per week to our usual workload, according to a recent survey by the National Education Union (NEU) of the impact of the grading window on its secondary, sixth form and FE members. This does not account for other tasks done as part of the grading process, such as reading guidance from exam boards, creating assessments, explaining the process to students or parents and preparing evidence for exam board scrutiny or appeals.

This is on top of working hours of classroom teachers which, according to your department's own research, already exceeded the working time regulations of a maximum 48 hours per week. According to the OECD, educators in England work longer hours than anywhere else in Europe, much of it unpaid. The burden has only increased in 2021 for those with responsibility for grading.

This is a totally unreasonable position for you to put the profession in and will further erode educators’ trust, confidence and goodwill towards you and your department.

As Secretary of State, you should have anticipated the additional work this process would create for teachers and leaders and your Government should have provided extra funding to schools to allow head teachers to plan for additional staff and resources to alleviate staff workload. Instead, you have sat on your hands, not even emulating the small gesture made to teachers by the Scottish Government, of an additional £400 payment in recognition of their extra work.

The National Education Union survey also found:

  • 98% of respondents have had to mark extra student work to provide evidence for grades.
  • 95% say their workload has increased as a result.
  • 94% have seen no reduction in their teaching load to mitigate this.
  • 85% say other work/tasks have not been reduced.

More than three quarters believe a Plan B at the start of the academic year and earlier provision of information to educators from your Government would have made the situation in their school or college more manageable.

We reiterate that we, as educators, continue to work hard to ensure this system is as fair as it can be for our students. It is time for the Government to return the favour by valuing us as professionals.

We therefore urge you to offer teachers a one-off payment of £500 for their extra work relating to qualification grading.

Yours sincerely,