Ministers vow decision on delaying GCSE and A-level 'very soon'

Ministers say decision on whether to delay GCSE and A-level exams next year will be taken ‘very soon’ amid fears many pupils are MONTHS behind after coronavirus chaos

  • Education Secretary said exam regulator Ofqual was considering ‘short delay’
  •  Exam season normally begins in May but could be pushed back to June or July
  • Comes after Mr Williamson U-turned over grades given in this year’s exams 

A decision will be taken ‘very soon’ on whether to delay GCSE and A-Level exams next year, ministers said today. 

Calls have been growing for the move amid warnings that many pupils – and particularly the most disadvantaged – are months behind due to coronavirus chaos.

Gavin Williamson said England’s exams regulator, Ofqual, was consulting on whether there should be a ‘short delay’ to the exam timetable in 2021.

And schools minister Nick Gibb insisted people will not have long to wait to find out the government’s plans. 

The time needed for exam marking and the university admissions process are among the factors being considered.

‘There are a whole range of factors that the exam boards, Ofqual and the Department (for Education) are looking at, but we will form a decision very soon,’ Mr Gibb said in a round of interviews.

Downing Street said it is awaiting the regulator’s recommendation.

Ministers are determined to avoid a repeat of the shambles over this year’s GCSEs and A-Levels, where exams had to be scrapped, and then the ‘standardisation’ system was humiliatingly abandoned after a swathe of pupils were marked down. 

A poll of nearly 3,000 school leaders and teachers has laid bare the devastating impact the shutdown has had on Britain’s children, with the poorest and boys worst affected. 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said next year’s school exams could be delayed

A decision will be taken ‘very soon’ on whether to delay GCSE and A-Level exams next year, ministers said today. Pictured, a socially distanced class in Hyde in July

Some 21 per cent of teachers from across 2,200 primary and secondary schools told the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) survey that they believed boys had fallen further behind than girls.

Richer pupils are 46 per cent further ahead with their studies than the poorest after lockdown, according to the data.

In total, 98 per cent of those surveyed felt students were not as far along with their learning as would normally be expected at the end of the 2019/20 school year.

However, more than half (53 per cent) of those teaching in the poorest schools in England reported their students were ‘four months or more’ behind in their learning, compared to 15 per cent of teachers in wealthier settings.

The survey also found that the learning gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers had increased by 46 per cent, adding that the figure was likely to be an ‘under-estimate’. 

Mr Williamson told the Daily Telegraph: ‘I know there’s some concern about next year’s exams, and that’s why we’ve been working with Ofqual on changes we can make to help pupils when they take GCSEs and A-levels next year.

‘Ofqual will continue to work with the education sector and other stakeholders on whether there should be a short delay to the GCSE, A and AS-level exam timetable in 2021, with the aim of creating more teaching time.’

Exam season usually begins in May, but there is speculation that could be pushed back to June and July.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said pupils entering Year 11 and 13 who have lost up to six months of teaching time face ‘a mountain to climb’ unless the timetable is changed.

She said: ‘Ministers had warning after warning about problems with this year’s exam results, but allowed it to descend into a fiasco.

‘This is too important for Boris Johnson to leave until the last minute. Pupils heading back to school need clarity and certainty about the year ahead.’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘Labour’s suggestion of a delay to help with ‘catch-up’ is worthy of serious consideration.

‘A delay is not without its problems, a consequential delay to the publication of results will put pressure on higher education providers such as universities and colleges as well as employers. All this will need to be dealt with.’

Shadow educatin secretary Kate Green said pupils had ‘a mountain to climb; without a delay

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