Unions have repeated calls to reintroduce free testing after new guidance confirmed pupils with a high temperature should not sit exams.
Guidance published by the Joint Council for Qualifications today has clarified advice for schools and pupils with exams this year.
It states pupils should continue to follow the wider UKHSA guidance on Covid. That means schools should advise pupils under 18 years old who are unwell and have a high temperature to stay at home.
Those pupils can go back into school “when they no longer have a high temperature”.
Those who have mild symptoms, such as a runny nose or sore throat, but are otherwise well, should be advised to attend school to sit exams.
Pupils who live with someone who has Covid should attend school as usual.
The guidance adds: “Where a candidate still wishes to attend an examination, despite having symptoms (e.g. a high temperature) or a positive COVID-19 test the centre should encourage the candidate to follow the UKHSA’s guidance.”
There are no details on what schools should do if a symptomatic or Covid positive pupil insists on sitting their exam.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the guidance was welcome.
But she added: “The fact that there are no plans to make Covid tests available means that it will be impossible to tell whether or not those symptoms are actually Covid.
“As a result, we may end up with students who have Covid and are infectious in exam halls potentially transmitting the illness to other students and invigilators, and students at home who do not actually have Covid missing exams.”
New special consideration rules
Pupils who miss exams will become eligible for “special consideration”. New rules for this year, due to the “exceptional circumstances”, mean grades will still be awarded where pupils have completed the assessment for “at least one whole component within the specification”.
However, A-level students will not get a grade for biology, chemistry, geology or physics by only completing the practical skills endorsement. GCSE pupils won’t get a grade for only completing the spoken language endorsement.
A grade will not be issued where no exams or assessments have been completed.
The government has set a minimum of ten days between the first and last exam in each GCSE and A-level this year to reduce the chance an unwell pupil will miss them all.
When applying for special consideration, schools no not require proof of a positive test, but “could keep a record … such as a photograph, as evidence if it is available”.
McCulloch added making free tests available for pupils with symptoms was the “obvious” solution, rather than the current “guessing game”.
“It would then be a great deal easier to advise when a student should remain at home and to apply the special consideration process – which assesses them on basis of the papers they are able to sit – to ensure that they are not disadvantaged.
“We simply cannot understand why the government does not take this obvious and sensible step, especially as it has continually said how important it thinks public exams are.”