On November 10th the Welsh government announced that they would be replacing GCSE, AS Level and A-Level exams with in-class teacher monitored assessments in summer 2021. This follows Scotland’s decision to cancel Level 5 (GCSE) exams, increasing the pressure on Number 10 to follow suit and cancel exams in England.
School children across the UK missed out on months of face to face teaching during the Spring 2020 lockdown, and the Prime Minister vowed to keep schools open throughout the current lockdown, despite calls from the National Education Union and teacher's union NASUWT to close schools to reduce the spread of the virus. Johnson declared “we cannot let this virus damage our children’s future any more than it already has”.
Nevertheless, an increasing number of students from around the UK are still facing significant disruptions to teaching due to students needing to isolate for two weeks if their classmate tests positive for the virus, and in some cases partial school closures with entire year groups being sent home. The Welsh government believe that if exams were to go ahead they would not be able to guarantee a level playing field for all students as some have been impacted by disruptions to teaching more than others have.
Barnaby Lenon, the chairman of the Independent Schools Council said: “Most teachers would prefer exams to happen. The problem is that some pupils have lost much more learning than others because of the pandemic. That unfairness needs to be looked at.”
Universities To Be More Lenient
The Department for Education and Ofqual are reportedly considering plans that would inform universities of how many hours of teaching each candidate has missed, to ensure that students most disadvantaged to disruptions to teaching have a fairer shot. The University of Oxford and The University of Cambridge have already written to schools asking for this information.
The University of Birmingham and The University of Surrey have announced plans to drop their entry requirements by one grade for all applicants.
A-Levels Pushed Back Three Weeks
Earlier this Autumn it was announced that A-Level exams were going to be pushed back to June instead of May by three weeks in an attempt to provide students with more time to prepare. This plan has been met with criticism from numerous boards and schools who believe three weeks will not make up for time missed.
The general secretary of ASCL school leadership union, Geoff Barton, was “dismayed” by the decision and believes the three week delay would only be “of marginal benefit when compared to the loss of learning from the national lockdown and ongoing disruption”.
Exams regulator, Ofqual, has asked exam boards in England to draw up 90-minute papers for each GCSE subject in case exams could not go ahead in the summer. The papers would be sat in early Spring, and the grades would form the basis for the final GCSE grade if exams were cancelled. No contingency plans have been announced for A-Levels yet. A-Level results day will now be in the same week as the GCSE results day, with A-Level results released on August 24th 2021 and GCSE results on August 27th 2021.
Where does Number 10 stand?
Following Wales' announcement, Education Secretary Gavin Williams has insisted that exams must go ahead as planned in England. Boris Johnson echos this by saying “There’s no change in our position... We continue to think exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance” and that the three week delay is adequate in giving students more time to prepare.
Last summer’s exam fiasco saw the government backtrack and replace their controversial algorithm with teacher’s grades. Rising coronavirus cases and local lockdowns will mean more students are going to miss time off school over the coming months, making it likely that the government may have to backtrack and amend or cancel A-Level exams to ensure the safety of students and fairness of grades being awarded.
By Clarissa Ducie