Gavin Williamson to address exam concerns in keynote speech tomorrow

The education secretary is to address the education gap and the role of statutory policies during this academic year

Education secretary Gavin Williamson is due to discuss exam and grading concerns during his keynote address to the Schools and Academies Show tomorrow.

Williamson is expected to discuss “learnings from the exams and grading concerns” and how he intends to work with schools to “give students the grades they deserve” next summer.

Williamson will use his speech to discuss the state of the education sector and the emerging education gap during the Covid-19 pandemic. He will also reflect on public health requirements within schools, access to funding and the role of statutory policies during this academic year.

The Schools and Academies Show will this year run alongside the Edtech Summit. Gillian Keegan, minister for apprenticeships and skills, will address the Edtech Summit tomorrow – and will be joined by Daniel Susskind, career development fellow from the University of Oxford and Helen Miller, chief executive of the Good Things Foundation. The event will cover school digital strategies and edtech pedagogy.

The education secretary is under increasing pressure from school leaders to change his approach to GCSE and A-level examinations next year, after he was embroiled in a public examinations crisis this summer.

Williamson said exams will be pushed back by three weeks to enable students in years 11 and 13 to catch up on teaching missed during the lockdown.

A mutant algorithm was blamed for a moderation process this year that downgraded nearly 40% of centre-assessed grades, in some cases by more than one grade. The process had an impact on university admissions and grade inflation. School leaders hope to avoid another contentious resolution to end-of-year examination.

On Monday, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) Jane Prescott expressed disappointment with the Department for Education’s plan. “A three-week extension to the exams to compensate for three months out of the classroom isn’t significant enough,” she said.

Prescott suggested GCSEs be replaced with centre-assessed grades. On A-levels, she suggested “a limit to the content, to the number of papers, so that we have a something that is formally recognised, but that is then added to a centre-assessed grade… to end up with an official grade.”

In place of GCSE and A-levels, the Welsh government now requires schools and colleges to undertake teacher-managed assessments, which would be externally set and marked, but delivered within a classroom environment.

The results of these assessments would form the basis for centre-based outcomes, aligned to a national framework “to provide consistency across Wales”. Teachers have flexibility around when to set assessments in the context of “results timelines”.

The Scottish government has announced the cancellation of National 5 exams in 2021 but hopes to push ahead with Higher and Advanced Higher exams.

Williamson will be joined at the Schools and Academies event by David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute and Wes Streeting, shadow schools minister.


Read more: Ucas poised for huge reform of university admissions

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