Exams 2021: Most GCSEs and A-levels pushed back three weeks

autumn exams

Pupils will still sit one GCSE English and one GCSE maths exam before the summer half term next year, despite a move to push most other exams back by three weeks.

The Department for Education has confirmed today that most GCSE and A-level exams will take place three weeks later than usual in 2021, to give pupils more time to prepare.

However, the department said one English and one maths GCSE exam will still take place before May half term “to help manage potential disruption”, along with some A-level exams in subjects with “typically low” student numbers.

All other exams won’t start until after June 7, continuing until July 2.

As a result of the change, GCSE and A-level results will be handed out in the same week of August, rather than a week apart. A-level results day will be August 24 and GCSE results day will be August 27.

The DfE has also confirmed there won’t be any further content changes beyond what has already been announced.

But the government has also said it plans to engage with schools over measures needed to address potential disruption, meaning schools could be left waiting as much as six weeks to hear ministers’ “plan B”.

The DfE said more detail would be published “later in the autumn”, in order to “ensure students have confidence that they will be fairly treated in terms of assessment in 2021”.

Ministers announced in June that they were consulting on a potential delay to exams in 2021, along with other changes to try to address disruption faced by pupils and schools.

The outcome of that consultation was published by exams regulator Ofqual in August. It set out content changes for GCSE and A-level exams aimed at safeguarding public health. It also announced changes to bring in more option content in some subjects.

However, the consultation outcome stated that more time was needed to consider the timing of exams.

Today’s announcement confirms rumours that the DfE was proposing a three-week delay, and details of how the system will work.

The government said the decision to hold the two English and maths GCSE exams before half term, which means a longer gap between them and other exams in the subject, will give year 11 pupils affected by Covid-19 “the best possible chance of still sitting a paper in each of these core subjects”.

The DfE has confirmed that it is an English language GCSE paper that will be sat before half term. While a maths paper was sat before the half term last year, it appears the first English language exam was not – meaning an exam for this subject is actually being brought forward.

The department also said that “no further subject-level changes to exams and assessments will be made for GCSEs, AS and A-levels” beyond what was set out by Ofqual in August.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Students have experienced considerable disruption and it’s right we give them, and their teachers, the certainty that exams will go ahead and more time to prepare.

“I will continue to work closely with stakeholders and I’m grateful for the commitment and willingness that’s been shown in delivering this additional time to ensure young people have the best opportunity to succeed.”

However, the DfE said today that its engagement exercise with the sector would last for six weeks, meaning schools could be facing a long wait to hear what other contingency plans are to be put in place.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leadership union, said he was “dismayed” by the announcement, and said delaying the start if exams would be “of marginal benefit when compared to the loss of learning from the national lockdown and ongoing disruption”.

“It has taken the government an eternity to reach a very inadequate response to the scale of the challenge which lies ahead for students who are taking GCSEs and A-levels next year.”

Paul Whiteman, the leader of the NAHT, added: “Having started this discussion in July, it is disappointing it has taken this long to get to this point when there are so many more decisions to be made.”

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  1. So the DfE in their wisdom believe that all year 11 pupils are going to get a fair and equal ‘crack of the whip’ by running a delayed but full exams season???

    As hard as we’ll all work to negate any unfairness based on the post code lottery of advantage/disadvantage, I think not…

  2. ben mathews

    I just doo not think that this is the right thing to do. firstly missing 4-5 months of school wont simply be fixed by having an extra 3 weeks. not only that but it unfair on the chldren as this is supposed to be one of the best summers of their life

  3. Janet Downs

    England should follow Scotland’s lead and cancel the 16+ exams. Teacher assessment together with pupil and parents should be used to decide post-16 progression which is the main function of exams taken at this age in most developed countries. Exams at 16 are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

  4. Simon Hopwood

    A totally inadequate compensation for the loss of teaching time. Different schools have provided different quality / quantity of on-line learning so many students will be at an unfair disadvantage. Scrap the exams for another year.

    • Kaye Broadbent

      I have never heard anything so ridiculous . The students have lost more than 4 months of schooling , and they think by pushing the exams back by 3 weeks this will help by giving more time .., who decides these things . It’s disgusting , unfair and likely to cause untold stress to these kids

  5. My daughter is very relieved that 4 years of schooling is not going to waste. However, it would be more helpful if the exams were reduced content and/or open book. Some kind of assessment is needed to assess students ability to progress on to A-levels or other further education, and teacher assessment can be flawed as there must be the desire to grade higher to make the teachers/their school look good and they will (should) want to do give their students the best chances moving forwards also and therefore grade higher (as was seen by the marked increase in overall grades this year). Value added data would be irrelevant.

  6. Miss Patterson

    How is 3 weeks delay comparable to nearly 6 months of missed education. You cannot cram the same content into a shorter time frame, a sponge will only soak up so much at a time! My child, through lockdown, was given random multi-choice questions of content that they had not yet covered in class, or work sheets covering content they had already covered! No they have to stay behind for an additional period everyday to try and catch up when all the other years have finished and gone home.

    And two of the most important subjects, Maths and English exams, are still to be taken in normal time frame, with no postponement, so no additional learning or revision time. How can this be helpng our children? This needs to be reconsidered. Use teacher assessments again this year !

  7. All Education should be repeated this year (ideally this decision should have been made for GCSE & A Level Students, but that ship has sailed)…. This year’s Freshers are next year’s Freshers, there will be no new Freshers because 2021 will not do A Level or GCSE Exams….. THIS IS THE GOVERNMENTS CHANCE TO GENUINELY LEVEL UP EDUCATION, instead of expecting pupils to do GCSE & A levels with reduced content, all those that have missed chunks (and will miss more with ongoing isolation necessary), let all students have a overlap / catchup year. So to be clear every year group from reception to Degree completion repeats 2020-2021. There will be NO EXAM CHAOS, THERE WILL BE A GENUINE OPPORTUNITY TO LEVEL UP EDUCATION, Primary school education will start a year later – more inline with Europe (lol) as reception year pupils will also repeat their academic year….THERE WILL NOT BE A HUGE INFLUX OF INADEQUATELY EDUCATED SEEKING EMPLOYMENT WHEN THERE ISNT ANY – Keeping these future stars out of the benefit system and in education must be a priority. Can someone do the maths…. pay for the education of all Uni Students for year 2020-21 or a year of benefits for those completing degrees? THIS SEEMS LIKE THE BEST SOLUTION – LETS RESET THE EDUCATION SYSTEM, GIVE OURSELVES ADEQUATE TIME TO RESET And actually get a plan that will work…. Pupils that need to sheild, pupils that need to be at school (eg keyworkers, anyone who prefers their child to be at school) go to school – this is a revision year! Students at Uni’s must stay at home and study online – Knowing they are getting ahead of the game for next year, when they will not have to pay fees….THE GOVERNMENT NEED TO PLAN LONGER TERM AND YET STILL BE FLEXIBLE – .This is flexible and accommodating. ITS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE!