Commenting on the Education Secretary’s statement to the House of Commons, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

"Gavin Williamson said in Parliament today that he and Ofqual had prepared a contingency for teacher-assessed grades to award qualifications in summer 2021 but, if this is the case, why did he keep it from the sector? The NEU alongside other unions had called for structures to enable such a back-up option to exams in October. Had these structures been put in place then we would be in a much better position now to make it happen. 

“Instead, there is a danger that implementing such a process fairly and consistently nationally at this late stage will lead to further extreme stress and workload for education staff, students and parents. This stress could have been avoided had Government not been so obsessed and blinkered by their pursuit of exams in the face of the obvious prospect that they may not be fair or possible. 

“Education staff will need further information soon about the training proposed by Gavin Williamson to assist with ensuring consistency and fairness of grades nationally. Students and parents will also want to understand how the process is fair for everyone across all types of qualifications - GCSEs, A-Levels, BTECs and others. 

“There remains a willingness from the NEU to work with Government to get the fairest possible outcome for students and find the best possible ways for schools and colleges to implement the process. We will take up his offer to discuss the details of these issues but government and Ofqual will need to be far more willing to act on what we suggest this time. We will also make clear that any further workload cannot be dumped upon an already grossly overstretched profession at this time. 

“The decision to pass the buck to school and college leaders on January exams for vocational qualifications is a further demonstration of a lack of leadership from government. Awarding organisations who offer these courses have assured us that no student will be disadvantaged whether they take the exams in January or not and it is now incumbent upon them, Ofqual and government to explain, very soon, how this will come to be. 

“We are glad that the Government has listened to the widespread calls for urgent action on tablets and data support for the remote learning of disadvantaged children, working with mobile phone companies. But it has not gone unnoticed that we have seen months of dither and delay. A move to rationing the supply towards the end of 2020 was a low point for school leaders who have been working desperately hard for the disadvantaged students in their care. Even so, by the Education Secretary’s own estimate the roll out of one million devices will not be reached until the end of January – two thirds of the way through the proposed period of lockdown. With a summer completely squandered by the Department for Education, it is galling that this should still remain an issue. 

“The last thing teachers and heads need right now is the spectre of Ofsted, which has been of neither use nor ornament throughout the pandemic. It is sadly part of their DNA to criticise rather than offer solutions or real help. The best thing inspectors can do right now is offer their services, either as additional teachers or to supervise daily testing of those who will still be attending their school or college during this period of lockdown. That way we can allow heads and their staff to focus their efforts on what really matters – supporting their students, rather than the distraction of a visiting box-ticker.