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What are the latest measures that will boost exam fairness?

By Sarah Harris

TEENAGERS sitting GCSEs and A-levels next year will benefit from a new package of ‘exceptional measures’ to make them ‘as fair as possible’ amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has announced that grades will be more generous than usual – to keep them in line with 2020 national outcomes. Pupils will receive advance notice of some topic areas covered in GCSE, AS and A-levels to help focus revision. And aids – like formula sheets – will be provided in some exams, giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise.

The government has also developed a series of contingency measures with exam regulator, Ofqual.

  • These mean that even if pupils miss one or more exams due to self-isolation or sickness, but have completed a proportion of their qualifications, they will still receive a grade.
  • If a teenager misses all their assessments in a subject, they will have the opportunity to sit a contingency paper, held shortly after the main exams, according to the Department for Education.
  • In the ‘extreme’ case when a student has a ‘legitimate reason’ to miss all their papers, then a validated teacher informed assessment can be used – but only once all chances to sit an exam have passed.

Mr Williamson points out ‘this isn’t business as usual’ for 2021 exams due to the ‘unprecedented disruption’ to students’ learning caused by coronavirus.

He says: ‘That’s why exams will be different next year, taking exceptional steps to ensure they are as fair as possible.

‘I am determined to support students, parents and teachers in these unprecedented times and hope measures like more generous grading and advance notice of some topic areas will give young people the clarity and confidence they need to achieve every success.’

In October, the government had announced a three-week delay to exams to free up teaching time – but it soon became apparent this did not go far enough.

Most teenagers have lost up to 325 face-to-face learning hours since the closure of schools in March and Covid-19 has continued to wreak havoc on education.

Up to a fifth of secondary school pupils (22 per cent) were missing from schools on Thursday, November 19 – up from 17 per cent the week before. And there are huge disparities in how the pandemic has affected schools in different regions.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) which represents more than 20,000 school and college leaders, including 480 in the private sector, claims the government’s solution is ‘not perfect’.

However, it will make next year’s GCSEs and A-levels ‘as fair as they can be in the circumstances’.

He’s right – the changes probably won’t completely resolve all the disruption caused by coronavirus, nor will they satisfy everyone.

But as Mr Barton points out, after months of discussions between the government, Ofqual and the country’s exam boards, headteachers simply needed a decision.

‘The uncertainty has gone on for much too long and they need to be able to get on with the job of preparing their pupils for these important exams,’ he adds.

Most importantly of all, teenagers deserved some certainty during one of the most uncertain and stressful times of their lives.

Sarah Harris is a freelance education journalist who regularly writes for the national press. She a former education correspondent at the Daily Mail.

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