Coronavirus: how to minimise the impact on your exams

Coronavirus continues to disrupt GCSE, A-level and Sats preparations, so we've bundled advice for teachers into one place

Tes Editorial

Coronavirus GCSE preparation

Coronavirus continues to disrupt preparations for GCSEs, A-levels and Sats as more schools are shutting and the virus spreads among the population. 

Tes is keeping you up to date with the latest news on its live blog and you can find the latest advice from the government here and the latest advice from the World Health Organisation here.

WHO also has a video to demonstrate how to wash your hands properly, which could be useful to show pupils.

Although you may want something a little more accessible: here's a video of a handwashing dance created by a teacher in China - it will be a TikTok craze before you know it...

Schools will likely face unprecedented challenges in the next few months, so we asked three teachers to offer some advice in three key areas:

  • Key safeguarding issues if schools are closed
  • How to keep teaching if schools are closed
  • What to do if classes are bundled together into bigger teaching groups

We also provide some additional links at the end. 

What are the key Coronavirus safeguarding concerns for schools?

Designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and Tes columnist Ceri Stokes pinpoints the key issues schools may face in keeping children safe

Coronavirus presents a number of concerns for schools, not least the question as to what schools should be telling the students.

Younger students have already been heard to ask if everyone is going to die. And I have even heard cases of children being bullied because they have a cold.

We cannot ignore the subject in schools – social media and the press aren’t ignoring it, so we need to speak up.


Schools and teachers can get slightly nervous about giving the wrong advice and there seems to be so much fake news about that we need to be careful.

Check your school policy, speak with your local medical team and read the advice given out by the World Health Organisation.

One of my biggest concerns, though, is safeguarding.

Coronavirus is going to cause absence – in some circumstances, the whole pupil population will be told to stay at home.

Here are two key questions I have – but I fear they are the tip of the iceberg and we will have more granula questions in the coming weeks.  

1. How do you mark down that absence?

Some counties have sent out advice for schools, stating that schools should be recording students who have been self-isolated by a medical professional with a ‘Y’ and not expecting staff to do home visits ('Y' is for exceptional circumstances, see page 13 in the government guidelines).

The problem here is that the advice seems inconsistent in each county.  It also does not cover students who are choosing to self-isolate for fear of contamination.

We need more guidance on the recording of absence, and how we verify children are self-isolating for medical reasons.

2. How do we ensure children are safe at home?

My biggest safeguarding concern is the possibility that some students may be kept at home, when home isn’t really the best place for them.

Who will check on the child? I am confident that all Designated Safeguarding Leads have children who are running through their mind right now, who they would be concerned about. For example, students who may have been seeing the school counsellor and now………who is going to support them? And for those we keep safe in the day, are social services going to step in?  

Things to consider

So what can we do? Can we prepare for this?

This is such a challenging idea, as we have no idea when or if this could be a possibility. But I do think we can do these five things:

  • Ensure we have structured work set daily
    We need to ensure that work is accessible for all students, even those without appropriate IT.  Work can be used as a distraction or escape if they are stuck in their room.
  • Keep in contact
    Safeguarding teams need to agree a rota of contact with students of concern, which should mean students contacting them, and them contacting students.  Students can also be given support contact details like Childline and the Samaritans.
  • Staff training
    Staff still need to think about safeguarding even if they are only contacting students via emails, but clear guidance needs to be given by the safeguarding team on what staff do with any concerns. On-line referral systems like CPOMS and MyConcern come into their element with situations like these.
  • Be mindful of data protection
    Safeguarding teams need to make sure that they have access to students information and contact details of outside agencies, even if they are not in schools. Data protection, though, needs to be considered. If we are expecting the safeguarding team to phone from home, how are we protecting their number and reimbursing them?
  • Keep communication lines open between staff
    Safeguarding teams need to make sure that they are still communicating and sharing with each other and their line managers. Isolation can make matters worse for staff and for the child and is not good safeguarding practice. 

How to keep teaching A-level, GCSE and other classes if school shut

Luis Morena offers the benefit of his experience of having his school in Hong Kong closed owing to Coronavirus

Coronavirus has already caused the closure of schools across the world and it may be that even more schools will have to close in the coming months. 

What can you do to ensure education – particularly for students due to take their Sats, GCSEs, A levels, IB or other exams – continues?

Coronavirus GCSE remote working

The key is not to panic and instead consider how you can continue to engage with students and help them learn, irrespective of external factors.

1. Cloud tools

There are many online tools that allow teachers to engage with students remotely and that should be incorporated into teaching life so they can be used quickly and confidently, whatever external circumstances are affecting a school.

For example, Google Meet can be used to check attendance, while Google Classroom lets you upload resources, set deadlines, allows students to turn in work they have done and, importantly, lets you mark it and send back the corrections, allowing you to ensure that they have studied the topic.

You can also set exam questions and correct them (good for exam focus) using platforms such as Edpuzzle. In terms of assessment, Edpuzzle is especially useful, since you can ask questions throughout and require students to send answers back to you.

Microsoft Office 365 is often available to teachers. It allows you to set up classes on Teams and to use OneNote to assign classwork to students. When they complete the assignment, you can mark it on the same document, too.

2. Go over familiar ground 

If the disruption is fairly short in length, you can probably focus more on reinforcing and consolidating previous knowledge and concepts. 

That way, since they have already studied these topics, students feel more confident to work independently. 

Again, using technology tools can help here as you can set quizzes and mark them, and provide feedback as if in a classroom. Such tools also enable teachers to spot students who are struggling in certain areas, or those that could be pushed further – just as you would in the classroom.

3. Start exploring flipped learning 

However, if the disruption is likely to last a long time and you have to start covering new content on a syllabus, flipped learning is a great way to do this.

First, prioritise which units would need to be taught in class and which ones could be learned independently. Then choose websites carefully, in which explanations are well given and examples and exercises are clear. There are many websites, and especially videos on YouTube, that can help to teach students and encourage them to gain independence. 

Tes recently explored whether YouTube could become a key teaching tool – read more here.

Using videos allows you to focus on the practical side of the subject and give constructive feedback on what they need to do next or how to improve.

You will need to direct them to specific sites, though – just saying “learn about this” won’t work.

You can also implement such methods in your usual teaching practice. You’ll be surprised how well students can react to this.

4. Practise using these tools before they are needed

My final piece of advice would be to try to practise all of the above – for yourself and, crucially, with students – long before an incident occurs.

That way, you will know how things work and students will have been tutored by you on how to use these tools effectively.

Otherwise, if you try to implement all of this from home during a crisis and the students have never used it, things could prove difficult and you are likely to have some learners claiming they can’t get the tools to work.

What happens if schools are asked to teach larger classes?

As a result of government Coronavirus plans, teachers may end up leading larger classes. But how would it actually work? Amy Forrester offers her thoughts

As part of the management plan for coronavirus, schools may be asked to group students - including A-Level and GCSE pupils - into larger classes if teachers come down with the virus and are unable to attend school.

We asked Amy Forrester, Tes behaviour columnist, English teacher and director of pastoral care (key stage 4) at Cockermouth School in Cumbria, for her view.

What is your biggest issue with the plan?

Teaching large groups of students, potentially 50-60 at a time, is going to have an impact on how we deliver content and ensure that all students can learn.

More active activities, such as group work, are going to be nigh-on impossible.

Teachers will need to carefully consider their delivery and use more explicit instruction approaches. It may be pertinent to consider what resources you have on hand – a visualiser can really help with this style of teaching, for example – but there will also be a need to consider the physical environment.

Exams: Ofqual braces for exam disruption due to coronavirus

Coronavirus: How to keep teaching if schools are closed

Video learning: Can YouTube help to teach your GCSE classes?

In order to approach this successfully, it may be appropriate for leadership teams to provide some interim training for staff so that they can agree on what teaching styles are to be used and collectively work on the challenges they may face. This will help everyone to feel as confident as they can in what will, no doubt, be a very difficult process.

Coronavirus larger GCSE classes

What challenges will there be with managing behaviour? 

One of the biggest areas to consider will be managing behaviour. In large groups, in potentially crammed spaces, the challenges are going to be varied and, in all probability, complex.

Where you might usually have had more challenging students in smaller groups, keeping particular young people apart, this may no longer be possible. It may be appropriate for school leaders to identify where they can bring in support staff to ensure that there are enough adults in the room to manage behaviour. Finding support in the system, even if that needs to come from admin staff, will be vital in keeping learning disruption-free.

School leaders may also need to consider having some clear, concise rules for students to follow coupled with clear sanctions. There is no room for grey areas in this situation.

In addition, they may need to consider how to manage the removal of disruptive students – when the class size is doubled, the impact of poor behaviour on the rest of the class is greater, as is the potential for the behaviour to spread.

Leaders will need to ensure that there is someone to call on in these situations and someone assigned to any spaces used as removal rooms.

Students will need to be clear about the rules and any changes to normal practice – the best way to do this will be through clearly communication with young people but also their parents to ensure everyone knows and understands when things are different from how they normally would be.

How can we manage the logistics? 

School leaders will need to identify all the large spaces that they can, such as gyms, school halls or assembly venues. It may also be pertinent to explore what spaces the local community may be able to provide if they are close by, such as church halls or community centres.

In large venues, key year groups close to examinations can take priority.

Once you know what staffing you do have, deploying these to GCSE and A-level examination groups will be vital. This may require suspension of the normal timetable.

Schools will need to consider which parts of courses and curriculum are applicable to all students and which aren’t. This can then be timetabled around venues and staffing to ensure the best coverage. It could include, for example, an English teacher teaching content applicable to all students en masse, followed by smaller sessions later in the day/week for options subjects.

Of course, there are many students who are not in examination years. This will need to be managed around the needs and priorities of those who are sitting examinations imminently. 

How can we meet individual students’ needs?

In this situation, meeting individual students’ needs will be a challenge. Teachers should be provided with information about students’ special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and prior attainment. This will likely result in some real mixed-ability teaching.

For some staff, this will be a huge challenge and school leaders should consider providing training. Teaching to the top and supporting upwards will be important to ensure that all students continue to be challenged academically, but teachers will also need to give consideration to supporting lower-attaining students in this kind of environment.

It will be easy for students to get lost in large groups and school leaders will need to plan for this, as well as to ensure that students with an education, health and care plan are well supported.

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