Plan to replace GCSE and A-level exams with teacher assessments welcomed

GCSE and A-level exams have been axed this summer.

GCSE and A-level exams have been axed this summer. - Credit: Getty

Headteachers and students have called for more detail after education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed GCSE, AS and A-level exams this summer will be replaced by school assessments.

Mr Williamson told MPs that the Government will put its "trust in teachers, rather than algorithms".

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed GCSE, AS and A-level exams this summer will be replaced by school...

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed GCSE, AS and A-level exams this summer will be replaced by school assessments. - Credit: PA

All students - except children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters - are using remote education until at least February half-term amid the national lockdown.

The education secretary acknowledged that exams are the "fairest way" of assessing what a student knows, but said the impact of the pandemic meant it was not possible to hold exams in the summer.

The grading of GCSE and A-level students became a fiasco last summer when end-of-year exams were cancelled amid school closures.

Gavin Williamson

Education secretary Gavin Williamson in the House of Commons. - Credit: Archant


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Thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm, before Ofqual announced a U-turn, allowing them to use teachers' predictions.

But speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Williamson said he hopes to use a form of teacher-assessed grades to award results rather than an algorithm.

Jezz Brown, 17, an A-level student at East Norfolk Sixth Form College in Gorleston, who has been involved in a nationwide campaign urging local MPs to back the cancellation of exams, said the announcement was a relief. 

East Norfolk Sixth Form College student Jezz Brown who was involved in a campaign urging local MPs to back the...

East Norfolk Sixth Form College student Jezz Brown who was involved in a campaign urging local MPs to back the cancellation of exams. - Credit: Jezz Brown

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He said: “We saw last year massive issues with the algorithm and the way it awarded grades based on postcodes and other factors which weren’t particularly fair. 

“I think young people are very pleased that teachers will be awarding grades because fundamentally they know what their students are capable of more than anyone else.”

Last month, Mr Williamson gave an "absolutely" cast-iron guarantee that exams would not be cancelled this academic year.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union. - Credit: Archant

Former Suffolk head Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union, said: “It is frustrating that there is not an off-the-shelf Plan B ready to go. 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.

“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.”

The grading of GCSE and A-level students became a fiasco last summer when thousands of students had their results...

The grading of GCSE and A-level students became a fiasco last summer when thousands of students had their results downgraded by a controversial algorithm. - Credit: PA

Simon Lebus, interim chief regulator of Ofqual, said exams are "the fairest way" of determining what a student knows, but the exams regulator is discussing alternative arrangements with the Department for Education (DfE).

He said: "We need to consider a wide range of qualifications - from A-levels and GCSEs to many different vocational and technical qualifications - and the solution won't be the same for all."

His message came after schools and colleges were given the flexibility to decide whether they want to run vocational exams this month, despite pressure from MPs, college leaders and students to cancel them.

Exam results GCSE

Exam results GCSE - Credit: Archant

Pearson, which runs Btec exams, said it was working to award a grade to any student who is unable to take their exams during the lockdown and who has enough evidence to receive the certificate they need for progression.

A spokesman for City College Norwich said the concerns were "understandable" ahead of this year's exams and that "no student should be disadvantaged" due to the pandemic.

The spokesman said: “The awarding bodies will again have mechanisms in place to revise exam results to take into account teacher assessed grades, if necessary."

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