Schools in England will have to wait until after the start of the next academic year before receiving plans for 2022 GCSE and A-level exams, the government has said, prompting teachers to warn of unfairness as they struggle to prepare pupils in time.
The Department for Education on Monday confirmed that next year’s exams would go ahead after two years of being replaced by teacher assessments because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The department said it expected to confirm the final details “early in the autumn term” — after most schools have finalised their curriculum and begun preparing children for exams.
Gavin Williamson, education minister, said exams were the “fairest way to assess students”, adding that it was “right” that future arrangements took into account the disruption to children’s education experienced over the pandemic.
The timing of the decision has angered school leaders, who say they have struggled with last-minute planning from the government throughout the crisis and that it will stretch teachers’ capacity to prepare children for assessment at such short notice.
The education department said it would launch a consultation on proposals to amend the assessment process to take into account lost learning.
Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Education Union, which represents teachers, said the government had “with grim predictability” launched a consultation that would be “unlikely to provide definitive answers”.
The announcement was “already far too late” and schools needed information by September 1 at the latest, he added.
“This situation is highly disrespectful to school students, teachers and school leaders who have given so much this past year and who have only ever wanted clarity to carry out their job and their studies,” said Courtney.
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, the school leaders’ union, said a consultation was “necessary but yet another demonstration that the government is way behind the curve” on education.
“This should have been put to bed weeks, if not months, ago,” he said.
Among the measures proposed by Ofqual, the exam regulator, to make exams fairer in light of the disruption to children’s learning are giving schools a choice over assessment topics, providing advance information on the focus of exams and giving students formulas or equations sheets where relevant.
The regulator is also considering how best to grade qualifications next year to be “as fair as possible to the cohort”. The education department said it would “continue to work with Ofqual on contingency plans in the event that it is not possible for exams to go ahead”.
At a select committee last month Williamson said the government was weighing measures to ensure a fairer playing field was carried over from 2020 — including applying the “overall level of generosity”.
But Brook said proposals to give students advance warning of topics “could serve to advantage those . . . who have not experienced so much disruption”.
He said a decision not to immediately consult on contingency plans “will feed uncertainty and stress for students and staff”.
The education department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.