Exams will ‘absolutely’ return to normal this year – Zahawi

The education secretary has also said that 2022 will not be normal, and instead involve a hybrid of exams and teacher assessments

Exams will return to their traditional in-person format this year.

The education secretary, Nadim Zahawi, has made a number of statements on the issue in recent days, some more definitive than others.

On 5 January, Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis asked for reassurance that exams “will go ahead as normal and we will get back to [the] exam structure that everyone is so desperate to return to”.

“I can absolutely give him that assurance,” Zahawi told the House of Commons.

By the weekend, that assurance had been given caveats. Rather than the “normal” exam format, this year’s GCSEs and A-levels will be a pre- and post-Covid hybrid of exams and teacher assessments, the education secretary told Sky News on 9 January.

“We’re going to do it with two steps,” he said. “So we’re going to go to the mean between the teacher assessment and the pre-Covid for this summer. And then we’ll go to pre-Covid the year after. So we’re doing it in two steps.”

The exams regulator, Ofqual, later said that it did not recognise the plan, and that teacher assessment would only be deployed only if coronavirus measures precluded the exams going ahead.

Following his comments to Sky News, Zahawi sought to clarify the position in a potentially ambiguous tweet: “As I said this morning, I fully intend for [exams] to take place in the summer.”

Plans for exams to go ahead are “encouraging,” said Peter Collison, head of formative assessment and school platforms at education resource suppliers, RM.

“There’s still no denying that the current disruption, brought on by Omicron, will affect whether all students can take those exams in person,” he added. “With further disruptions still looming, a new, more robust exam model is needed. Switching to digital assessment, for instance, could alleviate many of the challenges plaguing the sector and help to future-proof crucial exams.”

In other exams news, the education secretary also revealed that this will be the last year in which the impact of the pandemic is taken into account when grading papers.

“We’re putting in mitigations to make sure that we recognise [students] who have had their education disrupted,” Zahawi explained on Sky News.

These will include pupils being offered advance information about the focus of exam content to help hone their revision; students taking GCSEs in English literature, history, ancient history and geography not being required to cover the usual range of content in exams; and those taking GCSE maths being allowed to consult copies of formulae they would normally have to memorise.

Read more: Headteacher calls for handwritten exams to be dropped

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