GCSEs 2021: Plea for new approach in lockdown areas

More needs to be done to make sure that GCSE students in high Covid areas are not left at a disadvantage, say heads

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus: More needs to be done to make sure that GCSE students in high Covid areas, such as Liverpool, are not left at a disadvantage, say headteachers

Headteachers have called for students to have greater "signposted" choice in exams to mitigate the impact of local lockdowns.

The school leaders from within the Liverpool City Region – the first area of the country to be placed under the Covid "very high" alert level restrictions – say more changes need to be made to next summer's GCSEs and A levels because of the disruption that their students face.


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Mike Kilbride, principal of Birkenhead Sixth Form College and chair of the Wirral Association of Secondary Heads, said adjustments "need to be made at a subject-specific level" to take the disruption into account.

Coronavirus: The impact on GCSE students

He argued that the additional three weeks of teaching time from the delayed exam start date in 2021 will not be enough.

"Put simply: an uneven and therefore inconsistent experience cannot be accounted for with a consistent adjustment," he said.

Comparing his region with areas with very low Covid infection rates, Mr Kilbride said the differences would mean "very different experiences" for students.

"This difference is not being addressed by making the same allowances for all these students, with their different experiences," he added.

"Logic demands that different experiences require different adjustments. In the Liverpool city region, more students have tested positive. Even the very best online and virtual support will result in them having a diminished experience. To deny this is simply silly."

Greater "optionality" for the 2021 exam series is "still on the table", according to Ofqual interim chief inspector Dame Glenys Stacey. But nothing extra has been confirmed since it was announced earlier this month that most GCSE and A-level exams will be delayed for three weeks next year

Mr Kilbride said more was needed. "Those of us working in these badly impacted areas are being required to believe that a three-week extension and some extraordinarily minor adjustment to a few specifications will deal with the impact of Covid and somehow even out the playing field of assessment in 2021," he said. "They will not.

"Substantial further adjustments need to be made to account for the very different experiences that students and schools are having. 

"Adjustments need to be made at a subject-specific level: the introduction of signposted optionality might well work. 

"There needs also to be some means by which the differential impact on some areas can be adjusted for. Solutions are not easy and a single national solution might not be enough." 

Mr Kilbride added that the government directive for schools to provide high-quality remote learning immediately for students absent due to the coronavirus would not solve these issues.

"The Department for Education has distributed large numbers of laptops but these do not meet the need in all areas, so again there will be unevenness," he argued

An Ofqual spokesperson said: "We are working with the Department for Education, the sector and exam boards on plans for summer 2021 examinations and assessments, and on a range of options for different scenarios.

"We know that students will have missed out on some teaching and learning and that this varies by individual, school/college and region of the country. Exams test learning of course, that is what they must do, but we are considering ways in which we can make those exams a little less daunting a prospect for students. We will say more before the end of the year."

 

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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