Children in north west should get similar ‘special consideration’ for exams, Labour suggests

Children in the north west should get the same kind of "special consideration" for exams as those with long-term illness, Labour has suggested. 

A "regional approach" should be taken to grading GCSEs and A-levels next summer, according to Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green.

Ms Green told the Times Education Supplement magazine: "We do need to recognise regional variants in the learning experience that students have had this year…for example in parts of the North-West we’ve seen very low attendance rates in schools.

"So we’ve suggested that there needs to be some sort of regional dimension to the way that the results are norm-referenced, if you like, and that there should be proper consultation with local and regional governments in making sure the system is robust and fair to all students."

She added: “It might be the way you moderate the results. This is not completely unknown in the exam world. After all, you get that kind of contextualising where you’re dealing with long-term sickness for a student, for example.”

Students with long-term sickness may be considered for “special consideration” in the way their exams are marked, according to the Joint Council for Qualifications, which states that “an adjustment may be made to the terminal grade” subject to certain conditions.

The same consideration can also be given to candidates who have suffered bereavement, domestic crisis or are taking part in sporting events at an international level.

Earlier this week the Welsh Government announced their decision to cancel all exams on the basis that disruption caused by the pandemic has made it "impossible to guarantee a level playing field”.

Instead, pupils in Wales will undertake a series of assessments, some of which will be overseen by teachers while others will be externally marked but taken in the classroom.

Schools will be able to decide when pupils should take the tests. Last month, the Scottish education secretary John Swinney announced that National 5 exams – which are equivalent to GCSEs – will not go ahead next spring and that awards will instead be granted based on coursework and teacher judgement.

However, Downing Street has so far insisted that exams in England will go ahead next summer with a three week delay to allow for more teaching time.

The Department for Education (DfE) has said that contingency plans will be in place for those who are unable to take exams due to self-isolation, but these have not yet been announced. 

In a letter to Gavin Williamson, Ms Green said that students’ grades must "reflect the fact that many pupils, schools, and regions have had vastly different experiences of schooling and the pandemic".

She went on:  "There are some areas of the country, particularly in the north west, where prevalence of coronavirus has consistently been much higher, with predictable consequences for school attendance and pupils’ ability to learn.

"There have already been reports that grade boundaries will reflect the challenges faced by pupils this year, but will the government also consider taking a regional approach to norm-referencing performance, so that the system is fairer to those pupils in areas that have faced the greatest disruption?"

A DfE spokesperson said: “Exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance, which is why Ofqual and the government all agree they should go ahead next year.

“We are working closely with stakeholders on the measures needed to ensure exams can be held, and will set out plans over the coming weeks.”