GCSEs could be delayed next year to June 7 amid exams disruption

GCSEs could be delayed next year to June 7 with more optional questions in test papers under Ofqual proposals amid coronavirus exam disruption

  • The exams regulator is considering how next year’s exam timetable can change
  • It is proposing starting the GCSE exam series after summer half-term in 2021
  • Ofqual is considering adding more optional questions for a number of subjects

GCSE exams could be delayed next year to June 7 and could have more optional questions in test papers under proposals unveiled by England’s exams regulator.

Ofqual launched a two-week consultation on its plans GCSEs and A-level exams in 2021 after students faced months of school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is considering how next year’s exam timetable could be changed to allow more time for teaching.

The watchdog is proposing delaying the start of the GCSE exam series to after the half-term break.

GCSE exams could be delayed next year to June 7 and could have more optional questions in test papers under proposals unveiled by England’s exams regulator Ofqual 

Ofqual is looking at using ‘content sampling’ in question papers and using more optional questions in a number of subjects at GCSE – apart from English language, English literature, maths and the sciences.

The watchdog is also proposing removing the need for GCSE students to undertake science practicals and it has suggested that work relating to GCSE geography fieldwork should not be assessed in 2021.

It comes as the Government has released guidance on reopening schools in England to all pupils from September – which says schools will be expected to deliver their full curriculum ahead of exams in 2021.

But in exceptional circumstances, the advice says a Year 11 pupil could be allowed to discontinue a subject if the school judges that they would perform significantly better in English and mathematics.

School leaders are expected to make these decisions in discussion with pupils and parents, the guidance says.

Ofqual said in its consultation that it is looking to introduce a choice of topics for GCSE history and ancient history on which students would be required to answer questions in their exams, with one topic remaining mandatory.

But the Government has ruled out the use of content sampling in question papers for GCSE English language, English literature, maths and the sciences – and it says it should not apply at AS or A-level.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘These plans appear to amount to little more than tinkering at the edges of next year’s exams, despite the massive disruption to learning caused by the coronavirus emergency’ 

On the proposals, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘These plans appear to amount to little more than tinkering at the edges of next year’s exams, despite the massive disruption to learning caused by the coronavirus emergency.

‘We note that exam boards are being asked about the implications of moving the start of the exam series to June and this may help if it proves possible, but it adds up to a few weeks more learning time to compensate for a shutdown which has lasted for four months.

‘The young people who will take these exams have lost a huge chunk of face-to-face teaching time, and there is likely to be more disruption next academic year, with the possibility of localised full or partial closures in response to coronavirus outbreaks, and students who have to self-isolate.

‘We understand that it is difficult to scale back exams in a way that is fair to all pupils, but we fear the very minor changes in this consultation fail to recognise the enormous pressure on schools and their pupils to cover the large amount of content in these courses.’

Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, said: ‘We have considered a wide range of options before coming forward with a set of proposals for next year’s GCSE, AS and A-level exams which will help reduce the pressure on students and teachers, while allowing them to progress with valid qualifications which higher educational institutions and employers can trust.

‘I would encourage all those with an interest in our consultation to give us their views.’

How will the plan for all schools to return in September work? 

  • At primary schools, the current maximum ‘bubble’ size of 15 will be expanded to more than 30 children, allowing the return of full classes. 
  • Secondary schools, where children move between classes, could operate ‘whole year bubbles’, including potentially hundreds of children. 
  • Start times will be staggered, and pupils must sit facing the front to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. 
  • Attendance will be made compulsory again, with parents facing £60 fines if they fail to send their children.
  • Large gatherings, such as assemblies, will be off the agenda as will singing in groups, such as choirs. 
  • Classes or year groups could have to self-isolate – possibly meaning their families must also stay at home – if just two positive coronavirus cases are found in a school over the course of a fortnight.
  • Schools could be closed altogether if public health officials declare an outbreak.
  • Mobile units can be dispatched to schools to test anyone who has been in contact with the child, or member of staff, who has tested positive. 
  • Curriculum should be as ‘broad and ambitious’ as possible, but teachers can use ‘flexibility’ to prioritise the most important content missed.
  • Guidance admits curriculum might not be back to ‘normal’ until next summer. 

The proposals come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today warned unions cannot ‘dictate’ policy on getting all children back to school in September after the government unveiled plans to drop social distancing for whole year groups.

He said the ‘unprecedented disruption’ must end as he issued a blueprint for a full return in England, with staggered start times and strict classroom rules to minimise the risks of spreading the virus.

Guidance published today states that whole year groups – – potentially hundreds of children – can form ‘bubbles’ in secondary schools, while in primaries the maximum limit is being doubled to more than 30. 

Social distancing rules can be dropped within the bubbles to ensure there is capacity for all, and parents will face fines if they refuse to send their children. 

However, large numbers of pupils could be ordered to self-isolate – possibly meaning their families must also stay at home – if just two pupils test positive in a fortnight. Entire schools could be shut, although the guidance suggests it will not ‘generally be necessary’. 

Unions warned they were not yet satisfied the reopening was safe, and demanded the government comes up with a ‘Plan B’ in case virus cases rise.

But Mr Williamson told MPs that while he was constantly talking to unions, they could not ‘dictate’ policy, insisting ‘education recovery is critical for this generation’ and children must have the ‘opportunity to thrive and fulfil their full potential’.

‘Returning to normal educational routines as quickly as possible is critical to our national recovery too,’ he said.

The curriculum taught must be ‘broad and ambitious’, but teachers are instructed to use ‘flexibility’ to prioritise the most important content that pupils have missed. Underlining the scale of the disruption faced by children, the advice concedes the curriculum might not be back to normal until summer next year. 

Under the new arrangements, primary schools will be able to operate ‘bubbles’ of more than 30 children, allowing the return of full classes.

Secondary schools, where children move between classes, could operate ‘whole year bubbles’ of more than 200 children. 

Schooling will be made compulsory again, with parents facing £60 fines if they fail to send their children to school.

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