Autumn exam series ‘hard to rationalise’, says deputy head

In light of Ofqual’s announcement that an autumn exam series will be held this year, the deputy head of an independent school has said while there are certain circumstances in which they will be beneficial, pupils’ learning will be ‘no less disrupted by the autumn’

The deputy head of an independent day school in London has said that the decision to hold an autumn exam series is “laudable” but “hard to rationalise”.

This comes after exams regulator Ofqual announced that students who receive a teacher assessed grade this summer will be eligible to take GCSE, AS or A-level exams in the same subject in the autumn.

Dr Philip Purvis, deputy head (academic) at Croydon High School, said: “The decision by Ofqual to hold an entire autumn examination series – as directed by the Department for Education – is laudable. It is also, nonetheless, hard to rationalise.

“The summer 2021 public examination series was cancelled due to the widespread disruption to teaching and learning at various points over the last two academic years. Pupils’ learning will be no less disrupted by the autumn. Indeed, in most cases, pupils will not be offered any more teaching time by way of preparation for these examinations.”

This leaves pupils who want to take the exams faced with revision over the summer holidays to prepare.

“The autumn 2021 examination series is, then, quite a different prospect from its 2020 predecessor. By comparison, candidates in 2020 had relatively contained disruption to their teaching and learning and, therefore, much less ground to make up on their own in the corresponding autumn series,” said Purvis.

He continued: “Given that Ofqual confirmed that no alterations to papers would be made beyond the usual reasonable adjustments this year, it would take quite a brave pupil to sit an examination paper that asks them questions on a topic they have not studied or revised with their teacher.”

It would take quite a brave pupil to sit an examination paper that asks them questions on a topic they have not studied or revised with their teacher – Dr Philip Purvis, Croydon High School

However, Purvis noted two circumstances in which it would be beneficial for pupils to put themselves forward for the autumn exams.

“Firstly, they might do so if they think their teacher assessed grade is woefully unrepresentative of their abilities, and any appeals have been unsuccessful.

“Secondly, they may choose to sit autumn papers if their teacher assessed grade prohibited the progression to the next stage of their education that they desired.

“It remains to be seen just how many pupils will choose to sharpen their pencils, break out the post-it notes and crack the spines of their unopened textbooks to learn ‘new’ content in order to take on the autumn examination behemoth.”

autumn exam
Dr Philip Purvis, deputy head (academic), Croydon High School


Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, also said the impact of the pandemic on learning will still be the same in the autumn, resulting in an exam series that “creates more problems than it solves”.

Furthermore, he suggested that it could put more pressure on school staff. “Schools and colleges will be full with current students and the decision to run an exam series puts more pressure on them in terms of the staffing, organisation and space that is necessary,” said Barton.

He added: “Given that the process for awarding teacher assessed grades this summer will involve the opportunity for students to appeal, an autumn exam series seems entirely unnecessary.”

Ofqual has confirmed that AS and A-level exams will be held in October, while GCSE exams will take place in November and December.

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