More radical plan is needed for next year's exams

16/07/2020
ASCL says proposed changes to next summer’s GCSEs and A levels fail to fully recognise the disruption to students of the coronavirus pandemic and amount to no more than tinkering at the edges.
 
Proposed changes to next summer’s GCSEs and A levels fail to fully recognise the disruption to students of the coronavirus pandemic and amount to no more than tinkering at the edges, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said today.
 
Even more worryingly, there is no back-up plan in the event of further serious disruption which could make a full exam series next summer impossible for students who have to self-isolate or are affected by lockdowns.
 
ASCL has today submitted our response to a consultation by exam regulator Ofqual on its proposals for exams in 2021. We call for more radical changes to the exams to make them fairer on students, as well as contingency plans if there are local or national outbreaks of coronavirus.
 
Our response says:
  • Consideration should be given to increased choice within exams over the questions that students can answer so that those who have missed out on chunks of content because of coronavirus disruption are less likely to be disadvantaged.
  • Consideration should also be given to approaches such as open book exams in English, or formula sheets in maths and science exams, to recognise that students will have had less time to learn the large amount of content required.
  • We support the idea of moving the start of the exam series next year from May to after the half term in June as long as this does not affect the normal timing of results days which take place in August.
  • There should be a parallel centre-assessed grading process, similar to that used in 2020, which could be used to inform a student’s grades in the event of them not being able to sit an exam as planned. This might involve staged assessment opportunities, so that students could ‘bank’ a proportion of their grade over the course of the year. 
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Ofqual’s proposals for next summer’s exams seriously underplay the extent to which students will have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and amount to no more than tinkering at the edges.
 
It isn’t going to be business as normal next academic year. Students will be returning to schools and colleges in September having missed a huge amount of time in the classroom. It simply isn’t going to be possible for all students to cover all the content in GCSEs and A levels to the depth required. Added to that is the likelihood of students having to intermittently self-isolate and further lockdowns next academic year which will make the situation even more challenging.
 
Most worrying of all is the complete absence of a contingency plan in the event that large numbers of students are unable to take exams next summer. It is bordering on reckless to have no Plan B when we have literally experienced at first-hand an actual national lockdown.
 
The government and Ofqual really do need to think again about the planning for next summer’s exams, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”

Read our full consultation response here.