When Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that schools are required to deliver remote learning for the majority of pupils with supported learning in school for vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers, he also confirmed that this summer’s exam series would not go ahead.
Yesterday Gavin Williamson gave a statement in the House of Commons which confirmed that grades will instead be calculated based on teacher assessments. There will be no algorithm following the problems caused by last year’s standardisation process. Ofqual will now consider the options for replacing exams in consultation with the Department for Education so we will need to wait before we can consider the detail about the process that schools will be asked to follow in order to determine pupil grades.
There will inevitably be concerns about fairness, not least because of the significant amount of disruption to education since March – including during the autumn term with many bubbles being sent home following positive cases in school – and the fact that many disadvantaged pupils struggle to access remote learning.
Our experience following last summer’s results was that there were some strong challenges from pupils to the centre assessed grades, particularly on the grounds of disability discrimination. We therefore recommend that schools provide refresher training on the Equality Act 2010 to all teachers involved in the assessment process. This training should have a particular focus on the definition of a “disability” as defined in the Equality Act 2010 as this can be easily misunderstood as well as an explanation of what “reasonable adjustments” are. We can support schools with this training if required.
Gavin Williamson also confirmed yesterday that he is talking to Ofqual about the prospect of releasing the grades before the usual publication dates in August given there will be no exam scripts to mark, which would allow young people more time to work through their options on receipt of their grades.
The news that exams will not be going ahead also begs the question about what the Government’s expectations are for the summer term for the pupils who would usually be on study leave or sitting exams? Does it perhaps present an opportunity to bring young people together to engage in some form of guided community support or character-building programme, especially if the roll out of the vaccine and mass testing in schools makes this easier to do in person? Many pupils would no doubt relish the opportunity to develop these skills after months of being in lockdown though there would need to be funding to support it. In normal circumstances the law requires all young people in England to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday so, subject to any changes in the law or guidance, schools may well be expected to continue to deliver full time provision during the summer term for year 11 students and sixth formers. While the immediate priority for many schools will rightly be helping pupils to adjust to remote learning again, it will be interesting to see if any plans emerge to engage with the young people who will now no longer be preparing for or sitting exams this summer.
We will continue to update our Education Blog as further details or announcements are made.