Responding to the Department for Education’s announcement on next year’s GCSE and A level exams, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Today’s announcement amounts to a dereliction of duty by Government to pupils, parents and education professionals.  Pupils taking GCSE and A levels next summer are in a terrible position. They have missed five months of in-school teaching – a loss which impacts most severely on disadvantaged pupils, 700,000 of whom have no access to the internet which denies them access to remote learning.  Many pupils are missing further schooling, now, as they isolate at home waiting for COVID test results. It is completely unrealistic, and unfair, to expect these pupils to take exams which make no compensation for disruption to school teaching time.  

“In unprecedented joint advice with the other teacher and leader unions, the NEU advised Gavin Williamson that GCSE and A level exams must be altered to include greater choice of topics, which would enable pupils to be examined on what they have, not what they have not, been taught.  We continue to believe that greater optionality in exam papers, along with fewer exams, will be essential to support fairness and to decrease the already very high rates of pupil stress which are being suffered this year.

“Why are the Government consulting, now, on how exams will be graded and what the fall back would be if exams cannot be taken?

Ministers have had months to plan for these contingencies which, as COVID levels rise in communities, become ever more possible.  

“Today’s announcement is yet another appalling example of political ideology trumping practical reality.  It demonstrates that this is not a Government which is interested in levelling up because the impact of these decisions will impact most severely on the most disadvantaged.

“It is critical for avoiding the great unfairness felt by many students last summer that Government reconsider this position immediately and introduce greater topic optionality into the exams. If Government will not reconsider and change its mind quickly, members tell us that exams, even with greater optionality, are no longer tenable. In which case, the only route to fairness would be a complete cancellation of exams and the use of robustly moderated, externally quality-assured teacher judgements.”


Editor’s Note

Proposal for awarding exams grades in 2021, 5 October 2020:


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