Pupils could face four sets of exams under back-up plans if GCSEs are cancelled

Pupils face taking four sets of exams this year as schools are told to make plans in case GCSEs and A-levels are cancelled.

Teenagers due to take GCSEs next summer would need to sit an average of 32 assessments throughout the academic year, according to official plans.

The contingency measures, published by the exam watchdog and the Department for Education, set out how students will receive predicted grades from teachers if end-of-year exams cannot go ahead “safely or fairly” owing to the pandemic.

Pupils should sit termly assessments “under exam-like conditions wherever possible” so that teachers have a broad range of evidence on which to base their predicted grades, according to the guidance.

It adds that a “sensible approach” would be to hold the first assessment before the Christmas holidays, with another during the spring term and a final one during the first half of the summer term.

The average student takes eight GCSEs, so sitting termly assessments as well as end-of-year exams would mean taking a total of 32 papers.

Parents condemn ‘nonsensical’ plans

On Thursday night, parents condemned the plans as “absolute lunacy” and “nonsensical”, while headteachers said the plans are “far from ideal and places them under a great deal of pressure”.

Ministers are keen to avoid a third year of teachers’ predicted grades resulting in rampant grade inflation. Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, said that the Government “fully intends” for exams to take place next summer.

It comes after two years of exams being cancelled because of the pandemic. In 2020, a controversial algorithm was initially used to calculate students’ grades, but was dropped following an outcry.

Teachers’ predicted grades were then used instead, which led to huge grade inflation and a surplus of students qualifying for university places. The process was repeated in 2021.

Molly Kingsley, the co-founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said: “To suggest that children should do continuous rounds of exams at the end of a period when their mental health has never been so precarious is about the last thing these children need.

“Whatever one thinks about lockdown, we now know conclusively that school closures have been a disaster for children and their education. We should not be contingency planning to close schools, we should be planning to keep them open. We need a can-do attitude that assumes schools will stay open and that exams will go ahead.”

A ‘relief’ for headteachers

Julie McCulloch, the director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the publication of contingency plans is a “relief” for headteachers, but added that it is “ridiculous” it took so long for these to be published.

She said: “These plans involve students having to sit a series of mock exams which may or may not count towards their final grades, as well as then probably having to take formal exams next summer. This is far from ideal and places them under a great deal of pressure.

“This plan will mean considerable workload for schools and colleges. To mitigate the additional workload, the exam boards should produce banks of assessment questions that can be used flexibly by schools and colleges to construct exam-style papers.”

‘Guarding against over-assessment’

Teachers should “guard against over-assessment” and tests should be “as useful as possible” for pupils preparing to take summer exams, the government guidance said.

“Assessments should, therefore, be similar to full or parts of the exam papers they are preparing to take next summer. Past papers could be used, in full or part, where appropriate,” it added.

In a letter to students, Dr Jo Saxton, the chief regulator at Ofqual, said: “For many of you, this year will be your first experience of formal exams. We don’t want to add to your workload, which is why any additional assessments should help you prepare for your exams, and not create a distraction.”

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