GCSEs and A-levels to be based on teacher assessments after exams cancelled

Thousands of GCSE and A-level students across North Staffordshire are to be awarded grades based on teacher assessments rather than exams.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed today that June’s exams have been cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

But he hopes to avoid a repeat of last summer’s debacle when large numbers of A-level students were downgraded by an algorithm. Their results were later changed after a Government U-turn.

This time round, schools and colleges will again be asked to submit centre-assessed grades for each candidate, which will then be moderated by exam boards.

Mr Williamson said: “We are going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms.

“The department and Ofqual (the exams regulator) had already worked up a range of contingency options.

“While the detail 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 are awarded fairly and consistently across the country.”

But today’s announcement has left vocational students, such as those doing BTEC and Cambridge Nationals, facing confusion.

Some BTEC exams were scheduled for this week and may still go ahead, despite the national lockdown.

Mr Williamson said it would be up to individual school and college leaders to decide whether to run these exams ‘where they judge it is right to do so’.

He added: “No college should feel pressured to offer these exams, as we will ensure all students are able to progress fairly.”

It is not clear if those who choose to cancel them will be allowed to use centre-assessed grades instead.

BTEC students have demanded answers over why they are being treated differently to A-level students.

Ahead of today’s announcement, teenager Alana-Rose tweeted: “I have to do a 45-minute journey on public transport and walk into an exam hall with other people in two weeks. But A-level students don’t have to. Why do I have to risk my family’s lives for an exam?”

Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group had already made the last-minute decision to cancel BTEC exams scheduled for this week and next week. Around 2,200 students across the Newcastle and Stafford sites were due to sit 3,150 exams between them.

Principal Karen Dobson said: “It is incredibly frustrating. In a situation where the whole country is being ordered to stay at home and not to use public transport, thousands of BTEC learners could have been travelling to take exams.

“In lots of ways, vocational qualifications are the easiest thing to revert to teacher assessed grades. They include coursework and assessments that are marked internally by teachers and externally verified.”

But on A-levels and GCSEs, Mrs Dobson welcomed the move to use centre-assessed grades.

“The issue for me was how un-level the playing field has been for students, both across the country and between different institutions,” she added.

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“The Government had made a great play of exams being a fair way to judge performance. But it wouldn’t have been fair because it wasn’t a level situation.”

Newcastle College and Stafford College are now likely to use ‘virtual’ mocks to help inform their teacher assessment marks for students.

Mrs Dobson said: “I want students to be proud of the qualifications they achieve. It’s not about giving students an easy route. It’s about giving them a clear route so they know what is expected. Clarity has been sadly lacking.”

Sam Hackney, chairman of the Potteries Young Labour group, said: “We cannot afford to have another mess like what happened last summer, which is why the Government should have a clear strategy for dealing with this.”

But he stressed it went beyond sorting out how students’ grades were awarded.

Sam added: “With the announcement of a strict national lockdown, many young people and students are worried about what the future holds for them. The Government must prioritise mental health support for everyone, especially young people.”

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