NEU writes to Gavin Williamson about “bigger changes” needed for summer 2021

The Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union have written to Gavin Williamson the Education Secretary, setting out why the disastrous handling of this year’s exam results must never happen again.

Dear Gavin

One absolute priority emerging from this year’s exam awarding process which failed A level students and their teachers is that it must never happen again.  Most urgently, robust systems must now be developed to ensure that the 2021 grade awarding process for GCSE and A level is reliable, valid and secure.  We are concerned that the current arrangements do not meet these criteria.

Students who are due to sit GCSE and A level exams next summer have already missed over a term’s education. Any new spikes in the virus or local lockdowns will lead to further loss of schooling.  This situation will affect students in disadvantaged or urban areas disproportionately.

It is clear to the National Education Union that Government needs to make much bigger changes to next year’s exams in order to build confidence that the grades awarded, upon which young people’s life chances are determined, properly recognise and reward their achievements.   You should be working, now, to examine different possible scenarios and to develop contingency plans in case of further school and college closures.

In particular, we believe that Government should:

  • Reduce the content assessed in GCSE and A-level exams next summer, across all subjects, by making some topics optional to allow for the different order in which content will have been taught across the country.
  • Work with teachers and school leaders to develop a robust national system of moderated centre assessed grades in case there is further disruption to exams next summer because of a second spike in coronavirus or local lockdowns.
  • Commission a thorough, independent review into assessment methods used to award GCSE and A-level qualifications in England, along the lines announced by the Scottish government. The current over-reliance on end of course exams increases student anxiety and fails to give a fair reflection of what students can achieve. All options should be considered to ensure that young people are rewarded for their achievements, supported to fulfil their potential and not held back due to their background.

We look forward to your urgent reply.

Dr Mary Bousted & Kevin Courtney
Joint General Secretaries, National Education Union



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