In the face of 18 months of adversity, NSEAD celebrates the tremendous achievements of our entire art educator community

Ahead of the publication of exam results this week, NSEAD says: In 2021, the achievements of students and their teachers are extraordinary, but we should stop talking about ‘grade inflation’ and celebrate the tremendous efforts of our entire education community.

Commenting ahead of the publication of results for A level, ‘AS’ level, GCSE and vocational qualifications, NSEAD General Secretary Michele Gregson said:

For the second year running, exams in all four nations were cancelled, with final grades based on the assessment of teachers.Those receiving results this week have had both of their past two years of study interrupted by the pandemic. Their teachers have experienced two years of unprecedented pressure to ensure that students receive full recognition of their achievements and support to progress to the next stage of their lives and education.

Art and design is of course the only subject that has always been 100 percent teacher assessed. Art and design teachers were not fazed by the responsibility of delivering assessment, standardisation and support for students with decisions that are fair, transparent and accurate. This year that has been done in the face of mixed messages, last minute ‘U-turns' from Government and guidance that was not put in place for teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland until the last day of the spring term. We applaud our members, and art and design teachers and learners everywhere for their work this year, which has been nothing short of heroic.

In the summer series of 2020 students bore the consequences of a failure of leadership by our government. One year on, and we can at least be reassured that young people receiving exam grades this week will not be subject to the vagaries of a system that created an assessment bias favouring specific socio-economic groups. Any inequity in results this year cannot be blamed on a ‘rogue algorithm’, our schools, or our teachers.

This cohort of students have applied themselves with courage and determination, through two years of turbulence and disruption, supported and steadied by their dedicated teachers. The same cannot be said of all those charged with the stewardship of the education system. Many students have had less time, less access and fewer resources, simply because of where they live. The fact is that many young people have achieved far below their potential, because of their experience of the pandemic and impact of decisions made at Westminster. Repeated failure to make timely, far-sighted decisions has only served to entrench existing inequities in the education system. The playing field has never been level – but the pandemic has opened sink holes on the pitch.

That is the real story this week, not futile speculation about ‘grade inflation’. We need to focus less on comparing the 2021 crop of grades with previous years and concern ourselves with the creeping reduction of opportunity for those young people who have been failed by a statistical approach to assessment that produces an annual 30 percent ‘failure’ rate, and never favours those who begin with the greatest disadvantage. For Art and design, that is compounded by the increasing threat of reduced funding for Higher Education courses and a failure of policy makers to acknowledge the vital contribution that our subject makes to the wealth and health of the nation.

In the face of 18 months of adversity, the determination and resilience of educators and learners, and in turn the examination results awarded this week, is to be applauded. Across all four nations we are extremely proud of our art educator and learner community.