AQA – the country’s largest exam board – has stated that advance information for GCSE biology exams was accurate after scores of distressed pupils complained, claiming they had been given the wrong advice.
On Tuesday morning, AQA staged three separate biology papers; a single biology exam and two combined papers (synergy and trilogy).
Separate advance information was distributed for each exam, highlighting topics that definitely would and would not be assessed.
But pupils took to Twitter to question AQA, claiming they had provided the wrong information.
Despite the challenges, the exam board stated that its advance information was correct.
In response, the board said it “sounds like students might have been using the advance information for a different biology paper from the one they sat”.
Students were told to check with their schools that the right information was provided.
Exam board suggests pupil in wrong exam
One AQA tweet even suggested a school might have put the pupil into the wrong exam: “We’d recommend speaking to your school to make sure you sat the right paper.”
Advance information for the single science exam states the topic of cancer will not be assessed.
However, it appears a number of pupils sitting the combined papers read this advice.
One message to AQA’s Twitter page warned the confusion had left “many in tears”, another pupil said: “AQA tell us there will be no questions on cancer #shocking”. Parents of some pupils labelled the mistakes a “joke”.
An AQA spokesperson said: “The advance information for biology was all accurate.
“The issue seems to be that some students had unfortunately been using the advance information for a different science qualification in their revision.
“We know this is a difficult time for students so we’ve added some extra guidance on our website to help them make sure they’re using the right documents.”
Elsewhere, school leaders were “cautiously optimistic” after what they said was a largely smooth start to the first summer exam series since 2019.
But they warned the situation remains “fragile” as a strained workforce – with more than five per cent of teachers still off – leaves limited room for error.
Schools Week spoke with more than ten education leaders at schools around the country, none of whom had yet experienced Covid-related absences from exams.
‘I don’t have any contingency’
At GCSE, a number of Ebacc subject exams had already been staged, with biology, English language and history this week.
Catharine Darnton, headteacher at Gillotts School in Henley-on-Thames, said attendance for exams has been “fantastic”, with “no signs of Covid”.
Earlier this month, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) expanded the invigilator-to-pupil ratio from 30 to 40 pupils per invigilator. It also said staff who teach the subject were allowed to invigilate.
Darnton said she was “grateful” for the guidance as “if somebody’s ill, I don’t have any contingency – my contingency would be to use the reduced ratio”.
At Community Schools Trust in London, chief executive Simon Elliott said his schools were already making use of the new rules.
Forest Gate Community School, in Newham, east London, only secured half of its usual eight additional invigilators, with teachers who taught the examination subjects filling the shortfall.
Andy Byers, headteacher of Framwellgate School in Durham, admitted it “has been a struggle” to secure invigilators, but they had been able to use the relaxations.
Pan Panayiotou, headteacher at Worthing High School, said there had been no disruption, and while it is “early days – I’m cautiously optimistic”.
Darnton likewise warned the positive start is “fragile” and has “come out of the very hard work of all school staff” preparing for exams.
Increased anxiety not seen across the board
A survey from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) this month revealed eight out of ten headteachers reported higher levels of exam anxiety among Year 11s than pre-pandemic.
Caroline Barlow, headteacher at Heathfield Community College in East Sussex, said while she had a doubling in pupils requiring one-to-one invigilation, pupils were not “unusually nervous”.
Essa Academy, in Bolton, has seen the number of additional arrangement exam rooms increase from two to five.
But principal Martin Knowles said the “global anxiety about these exams has kind of died down now the kids are in it – they’re focused”.
Year 11 absence consistent in run-up to GCSE exams
FFT Education Datalab analysis of Year 11 attendance has revealed that absences among the year group since Easter were similar to absence rates earlier in the year.
Year 11s missed 11.5 per cent of sessions between the start of September and the start of the Easter holidays – compared with 11 per cent of sessions missed since then.
A session refers to either a morning or afternoon registration session missed by pupils, signifying half a day of lessons.
Since Easter, 17.5 per cent of Year 11s have missed at least a fifth of sessions – equivalent to one day a week.
The analysis is based on data from FFT’s attendance tracker, which includes around 2,700 secondary schools.
Amended: This article was amended on Monday May 23 to say AQA ‘stated’ the advance information was correct, rather than ‘maintained’ it was correct.