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It's not all bad, is it?

Following the recent introduction of further restrictions across parts of the UK and with ‘Tier 3’ potentially looming over our heads in the North it’s very easy to focus on what we’re missing about life B.C. (before Corona). Along with the lack of contact and ability to spend time with family and friends, a quick pop to the shop sans mask for those all-important 3pm biscuits (working from home necessity) is no longer on the cards, along with being able to pass people in the street without one of you awkwardly waiting in the road holding up traffic or loitering on someone’s driveway. Whilst we hope we do return somewhat to normality, we thought we’d take a look at some of the positives that have come out of the ‘new normal’ over recent months.Smiley coffeeWEB

1. Family time. The closure of offices and schools have meant that families were (and are) spending a lot more time together than before. Yes, we agree that for some this is most definitely not a positive (we’re looking at you full time workers trying to home school) but it has brought a closeness to many, helped create new shared memories and has meant that parents have been able to witness milestones that they may have otherwise missed.  

2. Slowing down. The huge reduction in scheduled plans, work deadlines and extra-curricular activities has allowed (or maybe forced) us to just stop and take a moment. Even if it’s simply appreciating the view whilst on a walk or finishing a cup of tea without having to rush to complete three other tasks in between.

3. No commute. Again, this will be a negative for some as it can be used as a refuge away from home and working life but for others the stress of sitting in traffic, having to rush to catch public transport or be back in time to pick up the kids is a definite win.

4. Connecting more openly. Mental health has become a huge factor during the pandemic. The removal of face to face contact has encouraged people to reach out to those around them more often and on a deeper level than before, either via text, video call or the infamous Zoom pub quiz.

5. Getting crafty. Turns out not being unable to do a whole lot else has allowed people to take up new hobbies, finish books they started in 2017 or finally paint their bedroom that snazzy shade of mustard yellow.

6. Yay for the environment. The air is cleaner (thanks in part to no. 3), rivers, lakes and the sea are clearer and less footfall resulted in wildlife flourishing across the UK. Cue one of our favourite stories of Lockdown 2020 – Goats take over deserted Llandudno.

7. Appreciating the little things. Once Lockdown had ended and we were allowed to go back out to play again (for a little while), a simple coffee with a friend or having dinner in a restaurant seemed just that little bit more enjoyable. We’d like to think that these things will continue to be a bit more precious once restrictions begin to lift further.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or will you be glad to see the back of it all (along with the Zoom quiz)? Let us know at contact@fellowsfinance.com.

Should we scrap GCSEs entirely?

bigstock Teenage Students In Uniform Si 217487401

The recent omnishambles in relation to A-Level results has driven me to consider the broader education picture, particularly GCSEs. I don’t believe they’re necessary anymore, assuming they were ever necessary. In fact, there are, in my opinion, considerable advantages that could be gained by ridding ourselves of formal examinations at 16 entirely.

I am primarily focused on the system as it is in England as I appreciate that there are some differences between England, Wales and Northern Ireland and obviously even more so with Scotland.

What’s the point of GCSEs anymore?

As far as I’m aware England’s system of major high stakes public examinations at both 16 and 18 is an anachronism. It’s not done in the rest of the EU, or the USA, or any other country I could find researching this yesterday. Depending on the country there are some assessments of children’s abilities and understanding when they reach around 15/16 but only as a means of moving them to the next stage. They do not have any long-term implications nor are they standardised/formalised. GCSEs narrow the curriculum unnecessarily, force pupils into an arbitrary choice a few years prior and then waste at least a few months foregoing teaching (other than examination technique) on the run up to the examinations, in favour of preparation for examinations.

Imagine if GCSEs simply weren’t there at all – what would be the scope of teaching opportunities that could present? There would be more time for developing skills such as coding or touch typing (I have no idea why schools have stopped teaching kids to type), more time on foreign languages, more time for experiments, music, drama, politics or philosophy. If deemed necessary there could still be an aptitude test for English and Mathematics but this could be school assessed and certificated - judged via continued assessment or a test that didn’t require revision. It would not be a grade that is measured against others but a certificate that says ‘yes this person meets a required level of English and Mathematics’.

By law, students have to remain in some form of education in England until they’re 18. GCSEs and O-Levels made some sort of sense when it was an option to leave education entirely at 16 but this is no longer true. No examinations at 16 is also a leveller, students can’t be tutored to do well in the examinations giving a potentially false account of their capabilities.

If we abandon GCSE how will this impact A-Level?

One of the issues that I think many missed in the percentage difference between the Centre Assessed Grades that students were (eventually) awarded this year for A-Level and the grades they would get in typical year is the difference between capability and examination performance. The difference is not because teachers are artificially inflating grades it is because teachers can’t account for unexpected circumstances on the day of an examination.
The CAG’s awarded the grades students were arguably capable of. However, in a typical examination year, some students might oversleep and consequently be classified with a ‘U’, they might have an argument with a family member that impacts their mood and miss a grade or they might simply be unlucky with the questions that arise in the examination versus the questions they revised (that can work in their favour as well). Examinations have a margin of error in respect to measuring capabilities of students which, perhaps is represented by the percentage difference between the CAG results for this year and the examined grades from 2019. A system of measuring student performance throughout their academic career instead of their performance on one day has significant benefits. I’m not suggesting revising A-Levels at least for now, although reinstating AS-Levels after a year counting towards a final A-Level grade makes sense as is the case in Wales. I believe scrapping GCSEs is a more achievable goal and the recent fiasco may make the idea more politically viable.

If students don’t go through an examination period at 16 the limiting factors of bad luck or circumstance don’t impact their choice of A-Levels. In addition to that, the last year or so of schooling at 16 could be, where possible, geared towards the A-Levels they are going to take instead of preparing for examinations they don’t need. It would allow a combination of a narrower and broader curriculum at the same time (they could have more focus on a chosen A-Level subject, say physics but also have themed courses i.e. how to manage personal finances). A more accurate assessment than grades would necessarily be passed on to colleges, sixth form departments, etc. than simply a grade and a presumption of capability based on that grade. This shouldn’t immediately equate to more work for teachers, as (potentially) beyond English and Mathematics, standardisation would not be necessary and possibly an elevated end of year report will suffice. Teachers may well gain time not having to organise mocks and prepare for examinations. These benefits would apply irrespective of the route for further education a student picked, A-Level, BTEC or apprenticeship.

What do employers think about GCSEs?

I mostly recruit people who have a degree and at least a few years’ experience. A degree grade remains relevant throughout your career to an extent (but it does depreciate), A-Level results are rarely asked for and GCSEs almost never. They are really only a factor when there is a high volume of applicants with very little between them although to me it has always seemed ill-advised to judge someone’s potential for a job in their 20s by examinations they took when they were 16. In most cases, and for most applications, if you have a degree and left GCSE grades off your CV no one would follow up or care.

For employers who are recruiting candidates who are younger, at say, 18, I would still argue that their grades at A-Level or BTEC or any other qualifications they received are a much better indicator than GCSE other than assessing that they have an appropriate level of English and Mathematics which would still be provided under my proposal.

In summary

Whilst almost no idea is perfect, I think the benefits of scrapping GCSEs massively outweigh the disadvantages. It would give students a wider curriculum, more preparation for the more crucial A-Level examinations and ultimately make teaching more fulfilling and less bureaucratic. 2020 is an opportunity to really think about how we treat our kids through our current education system and develop something that is fairer and better. We should not be tinkering around the edges as governments have done for decades but strive for a radical change. GCSEs are a good place to start.

Pete Fellows.

bigstock Angry Adult Woman Watching Vid 366755473A few simple tips for a video interview

More and more of us are having interviews on line. Even as Covid-19 related restrictions begin to ease, video interviewing is likely to remain the norm for many for the foreseeable future. So as the Internet loves a list, here’s a list of tips for maximising your chances of success on a video interview.

1) Do a camera test and make note of your surroundings

It amazes me how many people seem to be starting video calls without having checked the angle of their camera first, that they are fully in frame, that the light is adequate and the background not distracting. There are plenty of applications on line that will allow you to test a webcam (or often you can do this within the calling app itself). Poor preparation in this area could give the impression that you are ill-prepared in general. If you can, aim for a simple backdrop and environment that will allow you to sit up and look alert (at say, a kitchen table).

2) Make sure everything works

Not only test your camera but also test your microphone, your headphones/speakers and probably run another test shortly before the call to make sure everything is still working (I didn’t heed this the other day and commenced a call only to discover my camera wasn’t working, fortunately it was a simple fix of disconnecting and reconnecting but it was a little embarrassing). If it’s an important call, not assuming that everything is working okay is a good policy.

3) Have a backup plan

Your Internet drops out half way through, there’s a power cut, your PC crashes… there are numerous reasons that a video call can go awry, so make sure you have a phone number for the interviewer so you can call them in those circumstances. Make sure your phone has enough charge and it makes sense if possible, to install the video calling app on your phone as well so you have an alternative to a PC/Tablet if necessary. If you are using your phone for the video call, have a landline back up if you can.

4) Don’t be afraid to speak up if the technology isn’t working well enough  

If you can’t hear the interviewer very well, or the signal keeps dropping make sure you let them know. If not, you could appear to be disengaged or may mishear a question and answer incorrectly. People are understanding of technical issues particularly if they are beyond your control and it is better to reschedule or switch to a phone call than not representing yourself well through no fault of your own.

5) Use a PC and high-quality webcam in a static position if you can

Moving your device for a better angle is fine once in a while but holding your phone, balancing it or constantly changing the view can be off putting. In order to get the best widescreen view you may need to sit further away from your phone, which then presents issues with the microphone picking up your voice. Therefore, if at all possible, use a decent webcam and a PC. Good webcams are relatively inexpensive and can make a huge difference.

6) Use the medium to your advantage, notes, screen share etc.  

You would not take or refer to notes in a conventional face to face interview but in a video interview you can! You can keep some key reminders of points out of view of the camera and in your eye-line to make sure you raise everything you feel you need to, as well as some bullet points on how to handle tricky questions. But also, you can demonstrate engagement by having information at your fingertips that you can screenshare. Statistics, example work, reference letters and I’m sure many other resources could be shared with an interviewer. Having documents ready to share and being confident to do so, shows a level of research and preparedness that will impress most interviewers. If you are going to do this then make sure that any applications you have open are ones that you are comfortable with an interviewer seeing, just in case, and that your desktop background is inoffensive. This is also another argument for using a PC instead of a phone as screen sharing is likely to be easier.

7) Consider using a headset

Yes, they might impact your immaculate hair styling but they do minimise the risk of sound feedback. A headset will ensure that you are able to hear the interviewer well in most circumstances and that you can be heard well over its built in microphone.

8) Dress appropriately

You almost certainly don’t need to be as sharply dressed as you might for an interview in person but it’s best to not be too casual either. Video interviewers (or recruiters) certainly will not mind you clarifying dress code prior to a call although I think in most cases this really is not necessary. Just pick something simple and relatively formal and you’ll be fine.

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