The government is considering delaying the 2021 summer exams in England in order to allow for additional teaching time to make up for lessons lost to school closures during the pandemic.
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, told MPs that the government would be consulting with the exams regulator, Ofqual, about moving exams back to give pupils more time to study for their GCSEs and A-levels.Teachers’ leaders have said pupils preparing for exams next summer have not had sufficient time to cover the syllabus, after schools closed to all but key worker and vulnerable children on 20 March and lessons went online.This year’s summer exams had to be cancelled as a result of the lockdown. Instead of sitting their papers, pupils will have their grades awarded by a combination of teacher assessment, class ranking and the past performance of their schools.Previously, Williamson has insisted that next year’s exams will go ahead, but when asked during education questions in the Commons on Monday, he said the government was considering how to give pupils extra time.The Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke has previously suggested moving the 2021 exam season from May to the end of June or July to give students and teachers more time in the classroom to complete the curriculum.Addressing Williamson in the Commons, he said: “I wonder if my right honourable friend will be giving consideration to that or other matters to get extra teaching time in ready for the exam season.”Williamson responded that the government’s £1bn catch-up package announced last week would help ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from extra support through one-to-one or small group tutoring.He added: “My honourable friend raises an important point about how do we add more teaching time in, and that’s why we will be consulting with Ofqual about how we can move those exams back, giving children extra time in order to be able to learn and really flourish and do incredibly well.” An Ofqual spokesperson said later: “We recognise students expecting to take exams next year, and their parents and teachers, are concerned about the disruption to teaching and learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic.“We are working closely with the Department for Education, exam boards and groups representing teachers, schools, colleges and students, to carefully consider a range of possible measures. We are planning to publish for consultation, before the end of term, our proposals for 2021.”Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned of potential complications. “If the intention is to move the full six-week exam season to a later date, this would have significant ramifications.“It would mean either exam boards having a much narrower window in which to mark millions of scripts, or results being published later, which would potentially run into the autumn term. This would affect progression to further and higher education.“It’s important that the approach to next year’s exams supports pupils without creating more problems than it solves, and that it is agreed as soon as possible so that schools and colleges are able to prepare accordingly.”