Monday, 21 Sep 2020

2021 exams: Pupils back at school demand ‘quick’ decision on next year’s GCSE and A-levels timetable

Ofqual appears to have missed its deadline on announcing the timetable for next year’s GCSE and A-level exams, as pupils returning to school for the start of a new academic year called for a “quick” decision.

The exam regulator launched a consultation in July which proposed delaying the start of GCSE exams until after half term to 7 June, to allow for more teaching time.

It said any changes would be announced in August, but it has not yet made a final decision on the timetable for 2021, and is still drawing up contingency plans for next summer’s exams.

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In a consultation document last month, Ofqual revealed that 37% of respondents strongly supported delaying the exams, compared with 8% who said it was a bad idea.

The regulator said: “While there was general support for a delay to the exams, to allow more time for teaching, respondents were less positive about this if it meant a potential delay to results.

“We will continue to work with the DfE, exam boards, regulators in Wales and Northern Ireland, and groups representing schools, colleges and higher education to consider the best approach, and we will confirm our decisions as soon as possible.”

It means staff and students face further uncertainty with just two terms left to prepare for GCSEs and A-levels, having lost several months of learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mason Parkes, 15, who attends Bristnall Hall Academy in Oldbury, West Midlands, told Sky News: “It’s definitely hard and challenging… I would like the government to make a decision because we don’t know whether we are doing them later or if it’s just certain subjects or if it’s teachers’ predicted grades.

“It’s definitely worrying because we don’t know what’s going on or what to do, or what we are doing. I hope a decision is going to be made soon. I’m just going to try and get my head down and revise in every subject that I can.”

Rajan Mattu, 15, added: “I feel the government needs to make a decision quite quickly so we know what we need to do for our exams so we can prepare in the right way.

“I wouldn’t prefer them to be delayed. I would rather get them out of the way and done. All we can do is work, but we don’t know what to work on.”

On Tuesday Education Secretary Gavin Williams, who supports delaying exams, told MPs the government is determined that exams will go ahead in 2021, adding they were working with the sector to ensure “this is done as smoothly as possible”.

Labour has said next year’s exams should be pushed back to mid-summer due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said pupils starting Year 11 and 13 face “a mountain to climb” unless the timetable is changed.

She said exams due next May need to be delayed until June or July to facilitate extra teaching time.

A final decision looms as Ofqual’s chairman was questioned by MPs on Wednesday over this summer’s exams fiasco.

Roger Taylor told MPs that the situation with this year’s school exams was “rapidly getting out of control” under Mr Williamson.

Mr Taylor said it was a “fundamental mistake” to believe the algorithm initially used for A-level and GCSE results would “ever be acceptable to the public”.

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Ofqual was fiercely criticised after the “moderation” algorithm it designed meant around 280,000 students in England saw their A-level marks fall by one grade or more from their predicted results.

The algorithm, used following the cancellation of this year’s exams due to the coronavirus pandemic, was claimed to have disproportionately penalised students from schools in disadvantaged communities.

The regulator faced further anger over its handling of the appeals process for students who wished to challenge their results.

Following the controversy, Ofqual and the government then performed a U-turn by ditching the algorithm and announcing A-level and GCSE students would instead be handed exam grades as predicted by their teachers.

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