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GCSEs and A-levels likely to be partly assessed by cut-down versions of exams

The Guardian logo The Guardian 3 days ago Richard Adams Education editor
Gavin Williamson wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Photograph: PA © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: PA

GCSE and A-level grades are likely to be assessed using cut-down exams, after the education secretary and England’s exam regulator said they would be included in consultations over awarding results this summer.

Gavin Williamson, in a letter to Ofqual, said he wanted to examine the use of “externally set tasks or papers” to help teachers assess the final grades students will receive, with school assessments replacing the full set of exams that have been cancelled this year.

Gavin Williamson wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Gavin Williamson: ’A breadth of evidence should inform teachers’ judgments.’ © Photograph: House of Commons/PA Gavin Williamson: ’A breadth of evidence should inform teachers’ judgments.’

Williamson told Simon Lebus, Ofqual’s interim chief regulator, that the Department for Education and Ofqual would hold a joint consultation lasting two weeks to determine the final process to be used in awarding grades.

Related: School chaos deepens as Williamson fails to explain exam plan

“I would like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers, in order that teachers can draw on this resource to support their assessments of students,” Williamson said.

In recognition of last year’s debacle, with waves of protests from schools and parents over unfair grade allocations, Williamson added: “We have agreed that we will not use an algorithm to set or automatically standardise anyone’s grade.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents many secondary headteachers, said: “One of the key issues, however, will be precisely how any system of externally set assessment would work and how this can be done in a way that ensures fairness for students who have been heavily disrupted by the pandemic.”

In his response, Lebus warned that this year’s grades would be less reliable than if exams had been held as usual. “It is important that the consultation makes clear to all, especially those who rely on the results to make selection decisions, that overall outcomes this year will likely look different from 2020 and previous years,” Lebus said.

Williamson confirmed that exams for vocational and technical qualifications scheduled for February and March would not go ahead, while qualifications such as BTecs and Cambridge Nationals taking place this summer would be assessed in similar fashion to A-levels.

Lebus highlighted the need to accommodate of students not affiliated to schools, including home-schooled students sitting exams as independent candidates. Last year many complained they were ignored and unable to obtain crucial qualification.

“We will consider carefully the different experiences of private candidates and the opportunities available to them to make sure the approach is fair to all,” Lebus said.

Williamson later told the Commons’ education committee that mass Covid-19 testing would take place in primary schools when they reopened, with parents expected to do the testing at home.

Susan Acland-Hood, the DfE’s permanent secretary, told MPs that getting parents involved “unlocks the possibility to primary testing at a much greater scale”.

Meanwhile, new figures from the DfE showed that most primary schools in England had more than 20% of their pupils attending in-person this week – adding to evidence of much higher attendance during the latest lockdown compared with last year.

The overall figures showed that one in seven pupils in England attended in person on Monday this week.

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