ASCL response to announcement on exams in 2021

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, responds to the government’s announcement on GCSEs and A-levels in 2021.
Responding to the government’s announcement on GCSEs and A-levels in 2021, 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. It is not perfect. Nothing can be given the fact that learning has been so disrupted by coronavirus and that pupils have been affected to vastly different extents.
“But various options have been discussed exhaustively, and, frankly, schools and colleges just need a decision. The uncertainty has gone on for much too long and they need to be able to get on with the job of preparing their pupils for these important exams.
“Advance notice of exam topics, and exam aids like formula sheets, will help pupils know where to focus their energies in the time that remains before exams take place. Together with making grades more generous and the planned contingency arrangements, this represents a reasonable package of measures to mitigate the damaging impact on learning of the pandemic.
“We had argued for more optionality in exam papers, by which we mean giving pupils more choice over the topics on which they can answer questions. We suggested this solution in order to address the fact that some students will have experienced much more disruption than others, and may not have covered all topics in sufficient depth.
“However, we have been told it would be prohibitively difficult to design exam papers in this way. We accept that decision, and we will now focus on doing everything possible to make the chosen approach a success.

Inspections and school performance tables
“We are pleased that the government has listened to our call for routine Ofsted inspections not to resume in January and for school performance tables in their normal form to be scrapped for this academic year.
“It is vital that schools and colleges are able to focus on the immensely complex task of simultaneously delivering learning, catch-up support, and Covid safety measures without the added burden of having to worry about inspections and performance tables which could not possibly be fair in the midst of such disruption. This decision will be widely welcomed, and will come as an immense relief to school and college leaders who are working under relentless pressure.
“We support the idea of Ofsted monitoring visits to struggling schools in the spring term, as long as these are genuinely supportive.
“However, we are disappointed that the government has not cancelled primary school SATs. Even though these won’t be used as the basis for performance tables, holding a set of statutory tests still represents an unnecessary extra pressure.
“Nevertheless, this announcement, taken as a whole, is a good outcome to the many discussions which have taken place with the government over these issues over the past few months.”