GCSEs and A-levels 2021: Worries full exams will be 'unfair' on Harrogate students facing further disruptions

School leaders have warned that running a full set of exams in next year's GCSEs and A-levels will not be "in any way fair" for Harrogate students facing further disruptions caused by coronavirus.

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 10:22 am
Updated Thursday, 15th October 2020, 10:26 am
Next year's GCSEs and A-levels will now start in June - rather than mid-May.

The government announced on Tuesday that exams are going ahead in 2021 - but with reduced content for some subjects and a start date pushed back by three weeks.

Most tests will now start in June - rather than mid-May - in an attempt to make up for lost teaching time during lockdown and as more classrooms are hit by virus outbreaks.

However, there are concerns that pushing exams back slightly is unlikely to make any significant difference to the varied learning experiences students have had this year.

Richard Sheriff, executive headteacher of Harrogate Grammar School, said the new schedule will be unfair on students and warned there is a "very great risk" in planning for more exams rather than coursework or teacher assessments.

"I can't see in any situation where a standardised exams process will be in any way fair to assess achievement in these year groups," he said.

"The pushed back start date will make just a small amount of difference and only really prolong the revision period with students having to cram in as much as possible.

"And together with exam results coming even later in the year, this is just even more tremendous pressure for a generation which has already suffered enough."

Mr Sheriff, who is also chief executive of Red Kite Learning Trust which has 13 schools in Yorkshire, said he would have preferred a less radical approach similar to that in Scotland where National 5s exams have been cancelled and replaced them with teacher assessments and coursework.

There has - however - been criticism from Scottish pupils and parents, and Mr Sheriff admitted the approach is "not perfect".

He added: "Students have had varying levels of education right through from March and schools will still randomly be affected by coronavirus after Christmas with more children having to take time off.

"This system seems very difficult and I would have preferred more boldness from the government with clear decision making so we know the needs of every individual child will always come first."

School leaders at the teachers' union NASUWT have also said the pushed back exams will not "provide meaningful additional time for students whose preparation for examinations has already been disrupted."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said tests were the “fairest way of judging a pupil’s performance” and that further back-up plans would be decided later for "all scenarios".

Mr Williamson said results days for A-levels and GCSEs next year will be in the same week - 24 August for A-levels and 27 August for GCSEs.

The universities minister has already said that universities could change their autumn term dates if they needed to accommodate school exams being pushed back.

Stuart Carlton, director of children and young people’s services at North Yorkshire County Council, said school attendance in the region has been good since the Autumn term reopening and that virus outbreaks have been limited.

He welcomed the government's approach to exams and said students will be supported with their preparations.

"Exams for our young people are really important and we are really pleased that they will have a few extra weeks and be able to have a slimmed down curriculum," he told a briefing.

"Things are changing constantly and we understand there is still uncertainty.

"We will continue to support our young people in schools to prepare for the exams that we still think are coming next June.

"Our schools are working hard and our attendance is really good."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter