Ministers urged to review exams plan amid covid disruption

School leaders concerned 'trust in the fairness of exams process will falter'

School leaders concerned 'trust in the fairness of exams process will falter'

Ministers are being urged to review plans for summer exams amid concerns Omicron disruption means the current adaptations are not enough.

Students sitting GCSE and A-level exams will be given a choice of topics and test aids, like formulae sheets, in some subjects and advance information on the focus of exams in others.

The government says these measures will make sure students are not disadvantaged, in the first summer exam series since the pandemic begun.

But school leaders’ union NAHT says these plans now may not be enough, especially as they were drafted before Omicron caused further disruption in schools.

Analysis by FFT Education Datalab found that 16.3 per cent of disadvantaged year 11 pupils missed at least 30 per cent of lessons since the start of year 10, compared with 4.6 per cent of their peers.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said there needs to be “more recognition that some students could be disadvantaged by the gaps in their learning due to covid disruption”.

“If the government doesn’t do more to acknowledge this, trust in the fairness of the examination process will falter.”

The union has put forward two solutions: it wants advanced information published before February 7 – the current latest release date – and a decision to publish performance tables reversed.

FFT Education Datalab’s analysis of year 11 absence

An Ofqual spokesperson said it did recognise “students’ education has been disrupted”, and this is why “an unprecedented package of support has been put in place”.

They said they were “looking forward” to the return of exams this summer, adding the advanced information will help teachers manage revision time in the lead-up to exams.

A Department for Education spokesperson said they have set out “clear plans for a wide range of exam adaptations to support students, which take into account expected disruption this academic year”.

DfE added that the performance data will include “clear messages” advising caution when considering the data due to the pandemic impact. Ofsted will ensure inspectors are “trained to understand the caveats” around the data.

But Sarah Hannafin, NAHT’s senior policy advisor, added the government needs to review the adaptations “to ensure they go far enough”.

The government’s decision to deflate grades and move towards pre-pandemic standards after two years of inflation under teacher grades has also been challenged.

Grades this year will be fixed half way between last year’s inflated results and the 2019 pre-pandemic grades.

But Sam Freedman, a former DfE senior policy adviser, wrote in TES this month that the government should consider sticking with last year’s standards.

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