Next year’s exams will be made dramatically easier while the summer’s record-breaking grade inflation will be allowed to continue, the Education Secretary has announced.
Pupils sitting their GCSEs and A-levels in 2021 will be told in advance the topics covered in the exam and be allowed to take study aids, such as reference sheets, into the exam room.
Marking standards will also be relaxed, it has been announced.
Gavin Williamson has been determined not to cancel next year’s exams in England – despite the ‘unprecedented disruptions’ to learning caused by Covid.
Students due to sit their GCSEs and A-Levels next year in England will be supplied the topics in advance and be allowed to take reference sheets into the exam halls because of the amount of teaching time they have lost due to Covid-19
Exams in Wales have been cancelled next year, while the Scottish government has decided to replace their GCSE equivalent, National 5 exams, with assessments.
After initially announcing a three-week delay to the national exam schedule to grant pupils extra revision time, Mr Williamson has now unveiled more ‘exceptional steps’ to try to safeguard fairness.
Exam candidates this summer ended up with top grades at an unprecedented level, after the Government had to abandon its disastrous to attempt to dish out grades awarded by a computer algorithm.
But Mr Williamson, who previously said grade inflation ‘devalues’ exams, has now given the go-ahead for next year’s candidates to enjoy equally ‘generous’ results.
Ministers will lower boundaries so pupils are not marked more harshly than this year’s candidates.
Yet the decision to allow another surge in top grades means those taking exams in 2022 could end up being affected as results ease back to the historic norm.
Other measures designed to reduce pressure on pupils next summer include giving them warning of what exam topics are going to come up.
They will in many cases be allowed to take in written material like formula sheets, and extra papers will be scheduled in case candidates are sick or self-isolating.
If pupils end up missing all opportunities to sit an exam, their teachers’ estimates will accepted as their final grades.
Coronavirus continues to have a devastating effect on the number of pupils missing school, with figures showing more than a fifth of secondary school pupils were absent last week – the second consecutive week this has happened.
And one of the most complex issues – how to maintain fairness when different areas of the country have experienced different levels of disruption – is yet to be solved.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, pictured, is determined to hold exams in England next year. Officials in Wales have already cancelled next year’s exams while Scotland has decided their version of GCSEs will be determined by assessment
The Department for Education said it would form an ‘expert group’ to tackle the problem.
Mr Williamson said: ‘Exams are the best way of giving young people the opportunity to show what they can do… 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.’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘This solution to next year’s A-level and GCSE exams will make them as fair as they can be in the circumstances.’
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘It is welcome that the Government has at last shown that it is beginning to understand the concerns of teachers, parents and students about next summer’s exams and recognised that we cannot plough on ahead without further adjustments.’
The Government also announced that full Ofsted inspections will not resume until the summer.
Today Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said students had faced ‘so much disruption this year’.
Asked if she felt making exams easier this year would devalue grades, she told Good Morning Britain: ‘It would be totally wrong to look at the results of students taking exams next summer in that way.
‘In fact they have had it so much harder, than almost any students, they had so much disruption.
‘I think far from have it easy this year, we should recognise the very challenging circumstances in which they have been studying.’
Headteachers have also raised concerns about the difficulty pupils have faced during the Covid pandemic.
Amanda Melton, Principal and Chief Executive of Nelson and Colne School in Lancashire told BBC Radio 4: ‘It’s a terribly difficult challenge isn’t it just sustaining education through Covid anyway, but ensuring that students who are potentially in parts of the country where they are going to experience greater disadvantage, it’s so important we don’t interrupt social mobility.
‘Since March we have had pupils in schools and students in colleges working at home and studying at home.
‘Depending on their socio-economic group, they’ve had more or less access to high quality education being sustained in that time.
‘So we’ve got to make sure we take cognizance of the progress that they might have made if they have been in school versus them working at home.’
She said students had faced ‘hundreds and hundreds of lost days’ due to Covid in badly hit areas of the country and said something must be done to prevent the potential of students being ‘capped’ by the impact of the pandemic.