The general secretary of the school leaders’ union National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has said the measures announced by the Department for Education for next year’s exams in England bring “much needed relief”.
“This announcement brings with it some much needed relief to school leaders who have been operating in ‘emergency mode’ for most of this year,” said Paul Whiteman. “The reduction of some of the burdens in the system will begin to allow school leaders to focus on the quality of education they are determined to provide for pupils.
“Whilst the government has not gone as far as we would have liked, they have moved significantly towards the profession. We will continue to work with them on the areas where we still have concerns.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced today (3 December) new measures to make exams in 2021 as fair as possible and manage the disruption caused by Covid-19.
Building on the three-week delay to exams to free up extra teaching time announced in October, the new measures include:
- More generous grading than usual, in line with national outcomes from 2020, so students this year are not disadvantaged
- Students receiving advance notice of some topic areas covered in GCSE, AS and A-levels to focus revision
- Exam aids – like formula sheets – provided in some exams giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise
- Additional exams to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation
- A new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country
Williamson said: “Exams are the best way of giving young people the opportunity to show what they can do which is why it’s so important they take place next summer.
“But this isn’t business as usual. I know students are facing unprecedented disruption to their learning. That’s why exams will be different next year, taking exceptional steps to ensure they are as fair as possible.”
While students will be given additional chances to sit papers that they miss due to illness or self-isolation, if a student misses all of their assessments they will be able to sit a contingency paper held after the main exams. In they also miss this, a teacher assessment can be used.
Students taking vocational and technical qualifications will see adaptations to ensure parity between general and vocational qualifications.
The government also announced that full, graded Ofsted inspections will not resume until after the summer term.
‘Better than nothing’
The National Education Union has raised its concerns about how fair the new measures will be. Joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said the proposals were “insufficient” to meet certain challenges.
“Getting qualifications right and making assessments as fair as possible is a critical social justice issue,” said Dr Bousted.
“It means that the test of the government’s proposal must be whether it can compensate sufficiently for the inequality in access to in-school teaching and for the 700,000 pupils who have no access either to laptops or to the internet. On balance, we judge the government proposals to be insufficient to meet these challenges.”
Dr Bousted said the “slow decision-making process” is “better than nothing”, but “far less helpful than it could have been if it had been made sooner”.
She continued: “The decision to implement more generous grade boundaries in line with outcomes from 2020 is a welcome response which will go some way to reflect the disruption experienced by students this year.
“However, this is not a complete solution. Because grades are awarded by putting students in a rank order, those who have had less opportunity to prepare for the exams – for example because of repeated periods of isolation – will be placed further down that rank order. Adjusting grade boundaries is not a solution to the issue of differential access to learning: it does nothing for a student’s position in the national rank order.”
The Independent Schools Council (ISC) has come out in support of the new measures outlined. Chairman Barnaby Lenon said: “Pupils will welcome the certainty that this announcement brings: they are working hard towards their exams and as things stand, it is reasonable to expect they will be able to go ahead.
“We support the decision of the Department for Education to allow pupils in England to sit exams in summer 2021, with both the previously-announced syllabus reductions and these new measures.”
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