Next summer’s A-Levels and GCSE exams will go ahead in England, but their start date will be pushed back by about three weeks, it has been announced.
The exams will feature slightly reduced content and will now start from 7 June 2021, rather than mid-May, in an attempt to make up for lost teaching time.
Three week delay
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the 2021 exam programme will go ahead, with pupils being given more time to prepare after months away from the classroom following school closures.
Summer exams will start on 7 June and end on 2 July 2021 for almost all AS/A-Level and GCSE students. A-Level students will get their results on 24 August, and GCSE students on 27 August, allowing them to start the next academic year as normal.
Under the current plans, one maths and one English GCSE exam will be held before the May half-term to allow Year 11 pupils affected by the virus more chances to get their qualifications in the core subjects.
Announcing the plans, the Education Secretary said, “Fairness to pupils is my priority, and will continue to be at the forefront of every decision we take in the lead up to exams next summer.
“Exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance so they will go ahead, underpinned by contingency measures developed in partnership with the sector.
“Students have experienced considerable disruption and it’s right we give them, and their teachers, the certainty that exams will go ahead and more time to prepare."
Lack of contingency plan
Head teachers in England have expressed anger towards the lack of a decision over what contingency plans will be in place if exams have to be cancelled again.
Geoff Barton, the heads’ union leader, described the delayed start date, proposed by ministers in June, as of “marginal benefit” compared with the disruption and lost teaching time from the pandemic.
Pupils due to take exams have already lost months of teaching time because of the pandemic, and many may face further disruption, with almost one in five secondary schools sending home pupils because of Covid-19 cases.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders union NAHT, said a “compression” of the exam programme could hit student wellbeing.
He commented, “Announcing a delay is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the planning that now needs to be done.
"This step does not address the disparity between different student's different levels of disruption to learning; much more needs to be done to ensure that the qualification system takes account of this so that students can have confidence that the grades they are awarded in 2021 are fair."
‘Optimise the time now available’
Glenys Stacey, interim head of Ofqual, said today’s announcement would “optimise the time now available” and has provided certainty over what schools needed to teach.
She said, “Of course, we will need contingency plans. We are discussing with government, exam boards and the sector, the detail of that - taking into account the risk of disruption at an individual, local and regional level."
The announcement for England is a less radical approach than Scotland, where the government announced that National 5 examinations were to be cancelled, replacing them instead with teacher assessments and coursework.