Some assessment could be moved to earlier in 2021, suggests heads' union

Some assessment in 2021 should be moved to earlier in the year rather than delay exams, a leadership union has said.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he had asked the government to consider whether pupils could get some elements of assessment “under the belt” before the summer exams.

We still think there is an argument for saying the better suggestion is to recognise that children are over-examined at the end of a course, and that some of that assessment and some of that content could be assessed earlier in the course

The idea had been received “pretty well by some of the awarding organisations”.

Ministers are drawing up plans for exams in 2021 with the regulator Ofqual and exam boards as year 10 and 12 pupils face the impact of partial school closures.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said earlier this week he would consult Ofqual about putting off exams until later in the summer. Other suggestions include open-book exams or reduced content.

The education secretary has ruled out a repeat of this year’s centre-assessed grades.

But delaying exams would not be without its pitfalls.

Tom Richmond, the director of EDSK think-tank and a former government adviser, said it was “encouraging to see the department acknowledge the long-term consequences of this year’s severe disruption for students in years 10 and year 12”, but said moving exams was “by no means an easy option”.

Tom Richmond

“Selective sixth forms and colleges would face a serious problem if GCSE results are potentially not available by the beginning of September, while universities will no doubt push back on any attempts to delay the start of their academic year by several weeks,” he told Schools Week.

Barton agreed delay was “not without risks”, narrowing the “available window of time for those exams to take place”.

“If you suddenly get a spike in the virus next year, you’ve got less room for manoeuvre than if you’d given yourself the usual six weeks.”

Exam markers are also concerned about the proposal.

Paula Goddard, a senior examiner and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, said a shorter period for marking would either increase the workload on markers, most of them teachers, or leave exam boards having to recruit.

“Straight away you’re asking a pool of very tired, possibly still recovering people to do extra.” But she said full-time or semi-retired markers “might be quite willing to take on extra work”.

If exams became open-book, “that’s going to be a whole different type of marking, one which very few people will have been used to. They will need extra training, extra time to get used to it, and there probably won’t be that extra time.”

Barton thinks the solution is to “recognise that children are over-examined at the end of a course, and that some of that assessment and some of that content could be assessed earlier in the course”.

“So if everybody knew that the end of the first half term back was going to be some internal assessment set by the exam board, perhaps marked by the exam board, but getting that assessment under the belt of students so you are actually taking the pressure off at the end of the year. Would that not be a more sensible approach?”