Commenting on the confirmation of Ofqual’s plans for “fair and measured grading” in 2022, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“It is welcomed that an announcement has finally been made on exams, grading and contingency plans for 2022, however it has come far too late. We are two full months since the end of the consultation on exam adaptations, which itself lasted only three weeks. This is another example of teachers and leaders being asked to jump at the demand of Government, when they won’t replicate the urgency of response themselves. 

"Not only will it frustrate education staff and students alike that this decision wasn’t taken and announced before learning began this academic year, it will also not allay the anxiety or answer the questions many of them have. 

"Only giving advanced information about the exams in time for revision will result in a ‘topic lottery’ where some students will have happened to have covered the topics on the exam in sufficient depth and others may well have not. Being told what the focus of the exam is after teaching and learning has finished is of no use if the focus of the exam is something you haven’t had chance to cover in sufficient depth, which would be the case for many due to the pandemic. This will have a disproportionate impact on those who suffered the greatest disruption to learning due to Covid – more often than not, the most disadvantaged students. 

"It smacks of a complete lack of understanding of the situation faced by many students and of misplaced priorities to suggest that concern over narrowing of curriculum, if this information were to be released earlier, outweighs the unfairness of one student walking into an exam having had less chance to cover the necessary topics than another. 

"The amendments to qualifications and assessment must give those who have been most severely impacted the best chance of a level playing field in order to ensure the best chance at fairness for as many students as possible. This announcement does not do that. Advanced information about exams will be announced in Spring. This is too late for teachers to prepare their pupils for the exams. Over one hundred thousand pupils are currently absent from school. These proposals take insufficient account of this absence and its effect on teachers’ ability to cover the syllabus and pupils’ ability to learn. These proposals regard this reality as an inconvenient truth and ignore the practical implications of the current disruption to education. 

"Whilst it is also helpful to at least have an idea of the contingency plans now, teachers and leaders have already had to try to guess what evidence to collect of the work students have done to this point. It is right that any such evidence should form part of the normal course of teaching and learning, but teachers and school leaders urgently need clear, consistent guidelines about what to collect along with resources to support them to avoid a repeat of the workload government imposed on teachers and students last year. 

"The Government and Ofqual are picking an arbitrary number out of the air in order to determine how many of each grade will be issued next summer. Such a random act undermines their argument that exams are the fairest way to assess students. Whilst last summer’s system wasn’t perfect, the grades at least were a reflection of what students themselves had done, rather than simply reflecting how much better or worse they were than their peers. We would welcome greater clarity and honesty as to the reasons behind the proposed rationing of success in 2022, 2023 and in a ‘normal’ year. 

"The pandemic has exposed great weaknesses in the system used to award qualifications and while exams have their place, it is disappointing to see that Government and the regulator are not using the opportunity to honestly review the pitfalls of the status quo. The Independent Assessment Commission, funded by the NEU and one of many in a broad consensus of groups in the sector reconsidering secondary assessment, will take up these issues in its final report in November."