'Time running out' to plan for next year's exams, unions warn

“Time is running out” to organise exams next year, unions have warned, following suggestions A-levels and GCSEs could be pushed back several weeks next year to fit in more teaching time. 

Geoff Barton from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) told The Independent the government “needs to show a greater sense of urgency” on the matter. 

On Monday, five education organisations put forward a series of proposals over next year’s exams, including having contingency plans if pupils cannot take exams or their preparation was badly disrupted, and giving students more choice over what questions to answer. 

The group – which includes the ASCL and the school leaders’ union NAHT – also suggested students due to take GCSEs and A-level exams in 2021 should be prioritised for Covid-19 testing to reduce “ongoing disruption” to their learning. 

Reports have suggested there could be a delay to the exam timetable next year to help deal with disruption caused by coronavirus – which kept some pupils out of school for months this year. 

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However, unions have suggested different changes are needed to deal with the fallout from the pandemic. 

“Qualifications awarded on the basis of a series of exams, where students’ experiences of teaching and learning next year could be very different because of local lockdowns or other restrictions, will be unfair and may lead to additional disadvantage for some students compared to others,” Paul Whiteman from the NAHT said.

“The right approach to alleviate this issue is the adjustment to assessments and exams in 2021 to take account of the fact that students may not have covered the full course content.”

The NAHT’s general secretary added: “However, there is now a very short timeframe of opportunity to achieve this.”

Mr Barton from the ASCL told The Independent: “The benefit of shifting exams to a later date is really quite marginal compared to the scale of what has happened.”

The return to school last month was the first time all students were allowed back in the classroom since March. 

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has previously suggested a delay to the exam timetable could help fit in more teaching time before exams next year. 

Mr Barton told The Independent: “There has to be a robust contingency plan for those who are unable to sit exams or whose preparation over the next few months is very badly disrupted.

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“We are proposing some form of staged assessment in the autumn or spring term to provide a basis for awarded grades for students in these circumstances.”

He added: “But time is running out and the government needs to show a greater sense of urgency.”

Mr Williamson told the Education Select Committee there will be an announcement this month concerning the 2021 exams.

Exams were cancelled this year due to coronavirus, with outcry and protests following A-level results day after it emerged tens of thousands of teacher-submitted grades had been marked down in a controversial moderation process. 

Days later, a government U-turn meant students could take their Centre Assessed Grades if higher than their moderated ones.

“We expect exams to take place next year and continue to work with Ofqual and the exam boards on our approach, recognising that students will have experienced considerable disruption to their education in the last academic year,” a DfE spokesperson said. 

“There are a range of measures proposed by Ofqual following a public consultation, including a possible short delay to the exam timetable and subject-specific changes to reduce pressure on teaching time.”

They added: “We will continue to work with school and college stakeholders, Ofqual and the exam boards, to ensure that exams in 2021 are fair.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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