GCSE and A-level exams should be replaced with teacher assessments, experts say

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GCSE and A-level exams should be replaced with teacher assessments next year amid coronavirus disruption, experts have said.

Standardised tests cannot “run fairly” when some schools have been affected worse than others, according to a report from a group of scientists – which says schools do not need the extra stress.

The Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Independent SAGE), chaired by former Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, is calling for all primary school tests to be cancelled and for secondary school exams to be replaced with assessments by teachers with suitable moderation.

The Government should introduce a “blended learning” approach – a mix of on-site and home-based learning – in secondary schools in areas with high levels of infection, the guidance document says.

It comes as the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that only secondary school-aged children in England have seen a rise in Covid-19 infection rates.

Recent Department for Education (DfE) figures show that nearly three in four (73%) secondary schools in England have had at least one pupil self-isolating at home last week due to potential contact with coronavirus.

More than one in five (22%) of secondary school pupils were absent from class on November 19 compared with 17% the week before, the Government statistics show.

The Government has said schools will remain open in all areas of England under the tougher tier system – and schools and colleges have been told not to change their Christmas holidays or close early this term.

But Independent Sage has called on the Government to accept that many secondary schools in areas with high levels of infection may need a blended learning approach to bring infection rates down.

“Children and young people at school tend to have a wide transmission circle which can endanger parents and grandparents. Whilst wishing to minimise disruption to children’s education, stricter guidelines are urgently needed for reducing opportunities for infection,” the report says.

It adds: “The present situation in many of the worst affected schools and communities is characterised by confusion, secrecy, mistrust, fear, demoralisation and exhaustion.

“The pressures have now been exacerbated by a Government ban on schools rearranging holidays or switching to a mixture of on-site and home-based learning.”

On Thursday the Prime Minister said keeping schools open amid the pandemic was a priority, as he acknowledged the “heartache and frustration” that strict rules on the hospitality sector would bring.

Boris Johnson also appeared to rule out shifting schools to remote learning for the final week of term to reduce the risk of teachers and families potentially having to self-isolate over the Christmas period.

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is calling on the Government to give headteachers the flexibility required to move to remote learning during the last week of term.

He said: “We share the Government’s view that keeping schools open is a national priority but it should be prepared to show some flexibility in how this is achieved in light of the extreme circumstances.

“At the very least the Government must give school leaders the flexibility to move to remote learning during the final week of term either fully or partially based on their judgement of the situation.

Mr Barton added: “Many schools may be in the invidious position of having to tell large numbers of pupils and staff to self-isolate over Christmas in line with Covid protocols.

“They need to be able to make decisions over how best to deliver learning during that week in order to minimise that risk and in the best interests of their school community.”

The plea came as a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) sub-group said there was “no strong evidence whatsoever of large-scale spread in schools”.

Epidemiologist Dr Michael Tildesley noted that Tier 3 regions had seen an increase in cases in schools but, as the measures in those areas kicked in, “those had started to come down”.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Friday: “To me, there really isn’t strong evidence that schools staying open represent a strong risk to society in terms of a rise in infections.”

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