education

GCSE, A-level and Sats exams to be scrapped in England this year


GCSE, A-level and primary school Sats exams in England are to be scrapped this year in favour of assessed grades, Gavin Williamson has told MPs, saying that after last year’s exams debacle the government would “put our trust in teachers, rather than algorithms”.

The education secretary faced condemnation for the decision to close English schools on Monday night, a day after millions of students had returned for one day after Christmas.

The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said that wherever Williamson went, “chaos and confusion follows”.

Williamson’s statement to the Commons confirmed the plan to drop summer exams in England, including AS levels, given the new round of schools closures until at least after the February half-term break.

Scotland and Wales have already called off summer exams, and on Wednesday, Northern Ireland’s education minister, Peter Weir, announced the same plan.

With exams also cancelled last summer, grades in England were initially awarded after teacher assessments were adjusted via an algorithm, a plan dropped days later as results were condemned as arbitrary and penalising more deprived pupils.

The exams results last year “did not deliver what they needed, with the impact felt painfully by students and their parents”, Williamson told the Commons, noting that other UK nations had faced the same issue.

“Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, the impact of this pandemic now means that it is not possible to have these exams this year. I can confirm that GCSEs, A-levels and AS level exams will not go ahead this summer,” he said.

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“This year, we’re going to put our trust in teachers, rather than algorithms,” he said. He added that the Department for Education and Ofqual, the exams regulator, “had already worked up a range of contingency options”, which would be finalised soon, with help also from exam boards and teaching organisations.

“I can confirm now that I want to use a form of teacher-assessed grades, with training and support provided to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently across the country,” he said.

Williamson also said the government had “significantly stepped up” digital support where students kept out of school were unable to access online lessons, with a million laptops and tablets purchased and 750,000 to be distributed by the end of next week.

“I never wanted to be in a position where we had to close schools again”, Williamson said.

“The last thing any education secretary wants to do is announce that schools will close, and this is not a decision that the government ever wanted to take.

“I’d like to reassure everyone that our schools have not suddenly become unsafe, but limiting the number of people who attend them is essential when the Covid rates are climbing as they are now.”

Green was scathing in her response, telling Williamson: “It’s disappointing that he didn’t make a new year’s resolution to avoid U-turns or chronic incompetence.

“Once again, where the secretary of state goes, chaos and confusion follows, and it’s children, families and education staff across the country who pay the price for his incompetence.”



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