Most A-level and GCSE exams in England will be delayed by three weeks next year to allow pupils to catch up on time lost to pandemic closures, Gavin Williamson confirmed today.
The Education Secretary also outlined plans to streamline some subjects saying it would ‘support teachers and students by freeing up valuable teaching time’.
Most exams will take place between June 7 and July 2, but Mr Williamson also said that one maths and one English GCSE exam will take place before the May half-term, to allow pupils forced to self-isolate during the main exam period a chance to sit a paper in a core subject.
In a written ministerial statement today, Mr Williamson confirmed that he had rejected calls for the exams next summer to be scrapped or postponed for longer, as had been called for by some teaching unions.
They warned last week that moving the timing of exams back slightly was unlikely to make any significant difference to the varied learning experiences students have had this year.
‘We know that exams are the fairest way of measuring a student’s abilities and accomplishments, including the most disadvantaged,’ Mr Williamson said.
‘We want to give our young people the opportunity next summer to demonstrate what they know and can do.’
Results days for AS/A levels and GCSEs will fall on Tuesday 24 August and Friday 27 August respectively, instead of being a week apart.
Mr Williamson’s announcement came in the wake of widespread condemnation of his handling of this years exam results.
Thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm, before England’s exams regulator Ofqual announced a U-turn allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.
Mr Williamson added: ‘Schools and colleges have shown exams can be held, even in areas of local restriction, in the autumn exam series which is currently taking place. ‘Exams next year will be supported by contingencies for all scenarios.’
It comes after Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney announced last week that National 5 exams would not go ahead in 2021 and Higher and Advanced Highers would be delayed until May 13.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, warned that a ‘compression’ of the exam series may impact student wellbeing.
He said: ‘Announcing a delay is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the planning that now needs to be done.
‘This step does not address the disparity between different student’s different levels of disruption to learning; much more needs to be done to ensure that the qualification system takes account of this so that students can have confidence that the grades they are awarded in 2021 are fair.’
Shadow education secretary Kate Green MP said: ‘The government have finally listened to Labour’s call for exams to be delayed, but they could have done this weeks ago to give schools more time to prepare.
‘A delay is necessary but not enough to make exams fair for all. The government must ensure that every pupil gets the support they need to catch up, and that they look at other possibilities to make exams fairer.’