Following the announcement by the Government that the start of GCSEs and A Levels in 2021 will be delayed, Dr Simon Hyde, HMC Secretary General, said:
HMC welcomes the Government’s decision to move next summer’s exams back by three weeks, but for many young people this is no more than a sticking plaster.
The effect of cramming all these high-stakes exams into one month together with the Government’s apparent unwillingness to consider cutting their content back to the essentials will significantly increase the pressure on pupils and may well prove too much for some.
In recognition of the teaching time already lost, Ministers have already trimmed a little off the content of some GCSEs, and we await Ofqual’s proposals on how to change examinations to create more choice. But more is needed if the exams are to be broadly fair.
Children who lacked access to quality, or indeed any, remote learning during lockdown or who are now being sent home to self-isolate at a crucial stage of their preparations will suffer most, but those taking certain subjects also risk losing out.
For example, technical and practical subjects such Drama and Design Technology have been among those hit hardest by the pandemic as social distancing has meant they cannot be effectively taught, and the core teaching of other subjects has been disrupted.
Who best understands the impact of these factors on students’ learning and progress? Teachers. They also understand how different students have been faced different challenges because of their learning needs or their home situations, and the extent to which this year’s exam candidates have been affected as a group.
However, schools and teachers are still not being properly heard in decision making, risking a repeat of the fiasco that took place last year. There is an urgent need for the Department for Education and Ofqual to get more granular in assessing the impact of Covid-19, and they need help to do that.
If written exams can proceed next summer, Ministers must work with schools to examine further what should be taught and assessed and what can be excluded. This will not be straightforward, but a Government which prides itself on following experts in science should also follow experts in education, particularly headteachers.
Covid-19 has affected some children far more than others, so a serious consideration of what students can realistically be asked to cover and what they really need to know is vital if this year’s candidates are to emerge intellectually and emotionally unscathed.