Commenting on the package of measures announced by the Department for Education to manage the disruption caused by Covid-19, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“It is welcome that the Government has at last shown that it is beginning to understand the concerns of teachers, parents and students about next summer’s exams and recognised that we cannot plough on ahead without further adjustments. However, the fact this realisation has come so late means potentially more useful options than the ones announced today have become less viable.
"Disruption has continued for thousands of students with around 20% of secondary students absent in the last week for which we have figures. What is even more concerning is that the students who are already the most disadvantaged are more likely to live in regions where there are high Covid-19 infection levels and are missing more schooling as a result.
"Getting qualifications right and making assessments as fair as possible is a critical social justice issue. It means that the test of the government’s proposal must be whether it can compensate sufficiently for the inequality in access to in-school teaching and for the 700,000 pupils who have no access either to laptops or to the internet. On balance, we judge the government proposals to be insufficient to meet these challenges.
"The Westminster Government’s slow decision-making process on secondary exams and qualifications is better than nothing, but far less helpful than it could have been if it had been made sooner. Pupils and their teachers will be concerned that these changes are so different from those being made in other UK nations, when these students will be in competition for university places and jobs.
"The decision to implement more generous grade boundaries in line with outcomes from 2020 is a welcome response which will go some way to reflect the disruption experienced by students this year. However, this is not a complete solution. Because grades are awarded by putting students in a rank order, those who have had less opportunity to prepare for the exams – for example because of repeated periods of isolation – will be placed further down that rank order. Adjusting grade boundaries is not a solution to the issue of differential access to learning: it does nothing for a student’s position in the national rank order.
“Whilst teachers of GCSEs and A levels will welcome information on what topics will be covered, the fact remains that the details of this are needed now. Schools do not teach the syllabus in the same order which means that many students, and in particular those who have had repeated periods of isolation, will not have been taught the topics included on the exam paper. Delays to these details will mean that these students will have to play catch up while others are beginning their revision.
"We welcome proposals to adapt vocational and technical qualifications. Some of the required units for these must be done in school or college, which has been a major obstacle in some areas of the country. The number of options and assessments must be reduced in order for these students, many of them disadvantaged, to achieve their qualifications.
"Exhausted teachers and leaders will be relieved that Ofsted will not be carrying out routine inspections in the spring term, and that test and exam results will not be reported in performance tables. It should have been obvious that Ofsted poses potential dangers to Covid-19 security in schools and colleges and that during a pandemic, their inspections will reveal very little of value to parents. The suspension, this year, of school league tables demonstrates completely that this is not education as normal and that Ofsted should stay away for the whole of the academic year.”