GCSE and A-level students will receive teacher assessed grades in 2021 following the partial closure of schools – but the grades won’t be adjusted by an algorithm.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, confirmed in the House of Commons today that GCSE, AS and A-level grades will not go ahead this year, and that the government is “going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms”.
He said he wished “to use a form of teacher assessed grades, with training and support to provided to ensure these awarded fairly and consistently across the country”.
However, he said the plans would still need to be “fine tuned”, and did not provide a timeline for the release of further details.
It was announced on Monday that mainstream schools in England will move to online learning for all pupils except those classed as vulnerable and the children of key workers.
Prime minister Boris Johnson acknowledged at the time it would not be “fair” for exams to go ahead as normal.
Last year, the government was forced to abandon its system of calculated grades after around 40 per cent of centre-assessed A-level grades were downgraded by exam boards, prompted uproar.
Williamson said today that the government had “learned lessons” on exams after last year’s fiasco, during which the arrangements “did not deliver what they needed” with the impact felt “painfully by students and their parents”.
“Although exams are the fairest way we have of accessing what a student knows, the impact of this pandemic now means it is not possible to have these exams this year.
“I can confirm that GCSEs, A levels and AS level exams will not go ahead this summer. This year we are going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms.
“The department and Ofqual had already worked up a range of contingency options. While the details will need to be fine tuned in consultation with Ofqual the exam boards and teaching representative organisations, I can confirm now that I wish to use a form of teacher assessed grades, with training and support provided to ensure these awarded fairly and consistently across the country.”
Ofqual will launch a “detailed” consultation on the plans next week, Williamson said. It will run for two weeks.
The regulator said this afternoon that they “are not starting from scratch”, adding: “we have been considering different scenarios for some time and we have, of course, learned lessons from last summer.”
A spokesperson said Ofqual is “mindful” of Williamson’s preference for teacher assessment to “play its part”.
They added: “We are aware of teacher workload and how teacher assessment of students will have an impact on that.”
When asked about bringing grade dates forward, Williamson said it will be one of those issues that’s under active consideration as it gives pupils more time to appeal and make choices for their future.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “frustrating” there is not an “off-the-shelf Plan B ready to go”.
“We have repeatedly called on the government and the regulator to prepare such a plan in the event of exams being cancelled, and have repeatedly offered to work with them in doing so.”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, questioned why William kept a contingency for teacher-assessed grades “from the sector”.
“The NEU alongside other unions had called for structures to enable such a back-up option to exams in October. Had these structures been put in place then we would be in a much better position now to make it happen.”
Patrick Roach, general secretary at teachers’ union NASUWT, said arrangements used to assess pupils’ grades “must be developed in consultation with the profession and must keep workload and bureaucracy to a minimum”.