Overhaul of exams post-pandemic does not go far enough, say school leaders

A body representing the UK’s headteachers has criticised plans to overhaul next year’s exams for not going far enough after changes were made due to coronavirus.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has also accused exam regulator Ofqual of failing to plan properly for a possible second round of lockdowns in the event of a second wave of the disease.

It is now calling for Ofqual to come up with “a more radical plan” to help students left disadvantaged by the pandemic.

Earlier this month Ofqual opened a consultation on a series of proposals to level the playing field in next year’s exam season for students who are likely to have missed a significant amount of school.

They include more optional questions at GCSE, excluding in exams on core subjects such as maths, English literature and language and the sciences.

It is also considering removing the need for science practicals at GCSE level, and that work relating to geography field work at GCSE should not be assessed in 2021.

Although schools are supposed to be providing a full curriculum, Ofqual is also considering allowing a student to drop courses if it would boost their performance in other core subjects.

The GCSE exam season could also be pushed back until after the summer half-term to allow for more teaching time, as long as the results can still be released by August 26 2021.

The ASCL said the “absence of a contingency plan” for future waves of Covid-19 was the most worrying aspect of Ofqual’s proposals, and wants much greater support for students – even in core subjects.

It wants to see increased choice in exam questions to help those who may have gaps in their knowledge due to school closures, as well as open book exams in English, and formula sheets in maths.

It is also calling for the practice of giving a student a grade based on a teacher’s assessment of their performance, which was adopted this year, to be continued next year.

The ASCL said by allowing a student to “bank” a proportion of their grade over the course of the year via a series of assessments, it would mitigate against the possibility of them not being able to sit an exam as planned.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: “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.

He continued: “It is bordering on reckless to have no Plan B when we have literally experienced at first-hand an actual national lockdown.”

Mr Barton said the Government and Ofqual needed to “hope for the best but prepare for the worst” when planning for next year’s exams.

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