United Kingdom

Labour calls for GCSE and A Level delay as pupils prepare for classroom return

A-level and GCSE exams in England should be delayed next year to allow pupils to catch up on months of lost work, the Labour Party has said.

Pupils entering Year 11 and 13 face “a mountain to climb” unless the timetable is changed, Shadow education secretary Kate Green warned.

Ms Green said exams due next May need to be delayed until June or July to allow students to catch up on up to six months of teaching time swallowed up by school closures.

In a statement on Sunday, the shadow education secretary said: “Pupils across the country who have missed out on vital teaching time will have a mountain to climb to prepare for May exams unless the Government steps in.

“Ministers had warning after warning about problems with this year’s exam results, but allowed it to descend into a fiasco.

“This is too important for Boris Johnson to leave until the last minute. Pupils heading back to school need clarity and certainty about the year ahead.”

Many pupils have months of work to catch up on following school closures (PA)

Her comments come as millions of young people across the UK prepare to return to the classroom with schools reopening this week.

They also follow the assessment by influential Tory MP Robert Halfon that there is only a “50:50” chance of GCSE and A-level exams going ahead next summer at all.

The Commons Education Select Committee chairman called for Ofqual to be set an October deadline to decide whether to scrap exams in 2021 and again award grades on teachers’ assessments.

“It is 50:50 that exams go ahead next summer,” Mr Halfon told The Sunday Times.

“Schools, the Department for Education and Ofsted need to work out… how much disruption there will be to pupils’ learning in the coming year.

“Serious analysis needs to be done and then they need to make an announcement about exams within the next few weeks.”

Mr Halfon said the decision on next summer’s exams should be taken quickly to allow for teacher assessments to start if necessary, according to the newspaper.

He warned that pupils may have missed too much schooling to catch up, while a rise in Covid-19 cases could force many students back into online learning.

Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor is to face questions from MPs, when he appears before the committee on Wednesday.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is then set to be grilled about the A-level and GCSE results fiasco on September 16.

He has faced intense pressure after the Government U-turn, which saw a controversial algorithm abandoned in favour of relying on teachers’ assessments of the grades pupils should receive.

An Ofqual spokeswoman said: “There are no plans to cancel either GCSEs or A-levels in 2021. There are also currently no plans to curtail programmes of study.

“But we keep all plans constantly under review because the progress of the pandemic is uncertain.”

Meanwhile, Labour is urging ministers to review the existing support arrangements for post-16 students so that pupils preparing to sit their A-levels are not left without help.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “What is most important is that we don’t see a repeat of this year’s chaos.

“Poor planning and last-minute changes by the Government caused misery for many students. It would be indefensible if that happened again.

“Labour’s suggestion of a delay to help with ‘catch-up’ is worthy of serious consideration.

“A delay is not without its problems, a consequential delay to the publication of results will put pressure on higher education providers such as universities and colleges as well as employers. All this will need to be dealt with.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise that students due to take exams next summer will have experienced disruption to their education, which is why we prioritised bringing Year 10 and Year 12 pupils back to school last term.

“Exams will go ahead next year, and we have been working closely with the sector, Ofqual and exam boards to consider our approach.”

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