'A dereliction of duty' – Schools must wait to find out how Covid-hit exams will be awarded

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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The DfE's lack of a Plan B on examinations is a 'dereliction of duty' school leaders have said as they face up to yet another consultation over how Covid-cancelled examinations will now be awarded.

Teacher-assessed grades will be used to award this summer’s GCSE, A level and AS level examinations, the education secretary has confirmed.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, January 6, Gavin Williamson, said that the sector can expect a consultation on the details of how grading this summer will work.

He said that “this year we’re going to put our trust in teachers not algorithms”.

However, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is frustrated at the “vague” statement and said that the lack of a “ready-to-go” Plan B is a “dereliction of duty”.

Last summer’s exam grading fiasco was sparked because the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofqual relied on a flawed algorithm to allocated grades rather than using teacher-assessed grades.

Mr Williamson came to the House of Commons after the government's last-minute decision on Monday to close all schools to the majority of pupils and the subsequent speculation that examinations would not be taking place.

Mr Williamson told MPs: “The impact of this pandemic now means that it is not possible to have these exams this year. I can confirm that GCSEs, A levels and AS level exams will not go ahead this summer.

“The DfE and Ofqual had already worked up a range of contingency options. While the details will need to be find-tuned in consultation with Ofqual the exam boards and teaching organisations, I can confirm now that I wish to use a form of teacher-assessed grades with training and support designed to ensure that these are awarded fairly and consistently across the county.”

Responding to the statement, Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary, said: “The education secretary’s vague statement does not take us a great deal further forward other than to set out the broad parameters for the exam regulator Ofqual to work out a detailed plan.

“It is all very well to insist that there are contingencies in place and that it is now a case of fine-tuning. But what are these contingencies and how much fine-tuning is needed? It is the detail which is all important and which schools and colleges urgently need.

“It is frustrating that there is not an off-the-shelf Plan B ready to go. We have repeatedly called on the government and the regulator to prepare such a plan in the event of exams being cancelled, and have repeatedly offered to work with them in doing so.

“However, ministers have been so busy insisting that exams will take place that they have failed to ensure that there is a contingency system which can be immediately rolled out. This is, frankly, a dereliction of duty. Ofqual now faces a race against time to come up with the ‘fine-tuning’ of a credible alternative to exams.”

“What any system must achieve is fairness and consistency. It must ensure pupils receive grades which reflect their efforts, recognise the different extent to which learning has been disrupted, and give reassurance that the same standard is applied across the country.

“There is also a real need for urgency about this because these young people, and their schools and colleges, need to know what they are planning for very soon. What the government and Ofqual must certainly avoid is a repeat of the shambles of last summer.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: "We have been told that grades will be awarded through teacher assessment with training and support provided to ensure fairness and consistency. But there is no detail. It is vital that the government and Ofqual engage with the profession immediately to develop a process which works and avoids the chaos of last year."

On vocational examinations due to take place later this month, the education secretary confirmed that he is asking schools and colleges to take the decision themselves on whether they go ahead.

He said that this was because in some circumstances vocational students need to take their exams now in order to gain their licence to practice, which for some professions is required in order to take up work.

He added: “We want to allow schools and colleges to continue with these assessments where they judge it is right to do so.”

Mr Whiteman responded: "Little consideration has been given to students due to take exams this month. Pushing the decision about whether or not to hold these exams onto schools and colleges is unacceptable. No answers have been given as to how grades will be awarded where students or education providers decide it is not safe or appropriate to continue with them."


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