Teaching unions on Monday accused the government of refusing to outline how it will seek to avoid a repeat of this summer’s secondary school results fiasco in England.
Nick Gibb, schools minister for England, discussed plans for GCSE and A-level exams next year with unions, which put forward several proposals including basing results on mock exams and coursework if necessary.
Unions are concerned that ministers do not have a plan B if GCSE and A-level exams cannot go ahead next year.
This year’s exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis and the government abandoned plans for secondary school pupils in England to have grades partly based on a computer algorithm after a public outcry.
It emerged that children from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to have their A-level results revised downwards by the algorithm from initial teacher assessments. Ministers ultimately decided most A level and GCSE grades would be wholly based on teacher assessments.
The Department for Education on Monday said it was preparing for “all eventualities” in relation to next year’s GCSE and A-level exams and was looking at a “range of measures” proposed by Ofqual, the exams regulator.
“We expect exams to take place next year and continue to work with Ofqual and the exam boards on our approach, recognising that students will have experienced considerable disruption to their education in the last academic year,” it added.
But teaching unions expressed frustration at the lack of detail from the government.
“It seems to me that the government’s focus is to make the exams work and they don’t want to think about what happens if they can’t go ahead,” said Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union, the largest teaching union.
“The danger is we get a rerun of this year — the exams can’t be taken, not by everybody but by at least some students, and that really important question of what’s the plan B hasn’t been answered.”
Unions indicated that simply pushing back GCSE and A-level exams by a few weeks, which has been highlighted by education secretary Gavin Williamson and Ofqual as a possible solution to how pupils missed out on school time this year, would not go far enough.
Measures proposed by unions to make exams fairer include allowing pupils to answer a selection of questions based on the modules they have studied.
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Unions also proposed holding mock exams under close supervision by teachers, which could be used alongside coursework to decide pupils’ results if they are unable to sit exams next year.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, a headteachers’ union, said the sector was “increasingly frustrated” at the lack of clarity from the government.
“The government really does need to get its skates on,” she added. “Schools, colleges, and students need clarity over the path ahead and reassurance that the government has a grip on this issue.”
Natalie Perera, director of the Education Policy Institute, a think-tank, said the lack of detail from the government increased the possibility of unfairness in next year’s exams.