‘Pupils returning to class with no idea of how they will be examined’

·5-min read
Labour has said pupils are returning to school without knowing how they will be examined this academic year due to the Government’s ‘inaction’ (David Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
Labour has said pupils are returning to school without knowing how they will be examined this academic year due to the Government’s ‘inaction’ (David Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

Pupils are returning to school without knowing how they will be examined this academic year due to the Government’s “inaction”, Labour has said.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green accused ministers of showing “no care” for young people’s futures amid a “vague” consultation on exams.

The Department for Education (DfE) and Ofqual unveiled proposals in July for GCSE and A-level exams in 2022 – which includes giving pupils in England advance notice on the focus of exam papers.

But final decisions on the consultation, which closed on August 1, have yet to be published.

In the absence of confirmed details, Labour has set out its own proposals for ensuring A-level, Btec and GCSE exams can go ahead fairly next summer.

Pupils, parents and schools need certainty, but the Conservatives still have not got a plan in place, despite having more than a year to prepare

Shadow education secretary Kate Green

The party is calling for advance notice of topics for the summer exam series to be given to pupils by January 1, as well as providing back-up papers for the November exam series in case pupils are unwell or isolating.

Labour also suggests two standardised assessment points, with consistent materials, could be used to award grades as a plan B in case severe further disruption means exams cannot go ahead in summer 2022.

The party is calling for next summer’s grade distribution – which helps determine the numbers of pupils achieving which grades – to be pegged to 2020 in recognition that this year’s students will likely be competing with the 2020/21 cohorts for education, employment or training opportunities.

It comes after the proportion of GCSE and A-level UK entries awarded the top grades reached a record high this summer after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to Covid-19.

Youngsters were given results determined by their teachers, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught during the pandemic.

Ms Green said: “Pupils, parents and schools need certainty, but the Conservatives still have not got a plan in place, despite having more than a year to prepare.

“Young people are returning to classrooms this week with no idea how they will be assessed. They are being let down again by a Conservative Government which has shown no care for their futures, providing only a vague consultation for this year’s exams series.”

Schools, colleges, and students all need and deserve clarity from the Government as quickly as possible

Tom Middlehurst, Association of School and College Leaders

She added: “Labour has today set out a clear plan for exams, just as we have set out a recovery plan which would enable every child to bounce back from the pandemic and reach their potential. The Conservatives must start matching this ambition for children’s learning and their futures.”

Just days before the end of summer term, the DfE launched a consultation for the 2022 exam series – which included plans to give schools and colleges in England some choice over the topics that students are assessed on.

The consultation also set out proposals to provide exam aids to pupils, as well as advance information on the focus of GCSE and A-level exam content.

Ofqual said it is considering how best to grade qualifications in 2022 to be as fair as possible to students, but a decision is not expected until the autumn.

Tom Middlehurst, curriculum and inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We share Labour’s concern that students are about to begin extremely important exam years but still do not know exactly what those exams will look like come next summer.

“Schools, colleges, and students all need and deserve clarity from the Government as quickly as possible.”

He added: “We are also waiting on the arrangements for a contingency plan in case exams don’t go ahead, and clarity regarding what standard will be applied to the distribution of grades next summer after two years of turbulence.

“Frankly, it is not good enough that all these questions remain unresolved, and we need to see a far greater sense of urgency from the Government and Ofqual.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We have pressed for months for the Government to provide information by the start of the autumn term, not only on adaptations to examinations for 2022, but also on its contingency plans.

“Students deserve clarity and staff need this information so they can take it into account when planning for the new academic year.”

He added: “Even though 2023 might seem a long way off for ministers, schools, colleges and their students cannot afford for time to be wasted in the new academic year.

“It is not unreasonable to expect the Government to be looking forward to 2023’s exam series to avoid the late decisions which have caused so many issues over the past two years.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Exams are the fairest form of assessment and we intend for them to take place next summer.

“Alongside Ofqual, we have already set out proposals for next year’s exams – including information about topics and exam aids – that recognise the disruption the pandemic has caused to education, and we will confirm those plans early this term.

“We have also committed to an ambitious education recovery plan, including an investment to date of over £3bn and a significant expansion of our tutoring programme, to support children and young people to make up for learning lost during the pandemic.”

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