GCSEs and A-Levels next year will be adjusted to make up for the disruption to student learning in England during the pandemic, said the UK education secretary.
Gavin Williamson confirmed government officials were considering “mitigating measures” to grade exams in 2022, after they were cancelled this summer for the second year in a row owing to the coronavirus crisis.
The adjustments, to ensure pupils whose learning has been interrupted by the continued lockdowns are fairly graded, will be “similar” to modifications planned for this year, Williamson told MPs at an education select committee on Wednesday.
The education secretary said he “very much hoped and intended for exams to go ahead in 2022” and that action was needed “to ensure fairness” for pupils whose learning had been halted by the pandemic.
The measures include more lenient grading, giving pupils advance notice on exam topics and allowing them to use resources such as formula sheets.
“We had an extensive package of measures that was intended for this year’s awarding session,” he said. “We will look . . . at having a similar set of measures that can be brought forward in order to be able to support pupils.”
Last year, pupils in England were given teacher-assessed grades after the government scrapped plans to use an algorithm to set marks in place of exam assessments. The proportion of top A-level grades jumped by 13 percentage points, while GCSE pass rates increased by 9 percentage points.
Conservative MP Caroline Johnson, who sits on the education committee, told the hearing that parents were anxious about their children due to sit exams next year. “They are worried will their . . . grades look poor in comparison with this and last year’s inflated grades,” she said.
The government had planned for GCSEs and A-Levels to go ahead this summer, and to apply the “overall level of generosity” used in 2020 assessments. But in January the exams were cancelled as the virus ripped through schools during the winter peak.
These mitigating measures will now be applied to students sitting exams in 2022, who stand to be disadvantaged by disruption and in comparison to peers who received higher grades this year.
Government figures released on Wednesday showed a sharp rise in the number of pupils absent from school as a result up Covid, with nearly 250,000 missing out on face-to-face learning on June 17.
Asked by Johnson if adjustments would be required “next year, or the year after, or the year after that”, Williamson replied that he expected mitigations to be put in place.
“Youngsters that are currently in year ten and year twelve will have obviously suffered disruption,” he said. “You don’t have the situation immediately switching back.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which represents school leaders, said the news that exams may be adjusted would “surprise no one in the sector”.
“The important thing now is that schools and colleges are given clear information from government about how many scenarios they should be planning for. [It] cannot be allowed to sleepwalk into a third year of uncertainty and confusion,” he said.