Exams 2021: DfE clarifies international school changes

DfE confirms that same Covid rule changes apply to international schools – but uncertainties remain across the sector

Dan Worth

GCSE and A-level exams 2021: The DfE has confirmed that the coronavirus-related changes to exams in England apply to international schools

The Department for Education has confirmed that any international school that uses exams set by an examination board overseen by regulator Ofqual will receive the same exam amendments that were announced last week, such as advance notice of topics covered and more generous gradings.

When the announcement of coronavirus-related exam changes was first made last week, there was initial confusion over the lack of reference to international schools – a point made by the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) and other international associations and headteachers.

The DfE has now confirmed to Tes that all international schools sitting an Ofqual-regulated exam board’s papers will receive the same dispensations, such as being alerted to topics that will be covered in the exams and having access to exam aides, such as formulae sheets.

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While the move brings some clarity, the CEO of COBIS, Colin Bell, said it was still engaging with the DfE to ensure that the government understood the huge variation in Covid impact that international schools across the world will have felt during 2020 – with many still teaching remotely.

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“Representing COBIS member schools and other international schools in the sector, COBIS remains in close contact with the DfE on this issue,” he said.

“It’s important that the DfE continue to appreciate the impact that changes to examinations have on the wellbeing of students and teachers based outside England.”

The concern will be that many schools will still be far behind others – whether in England or other parts of the world – when it comes to direct face-to-face teaching and that, even with these changes, students may be assessed against peers within an uneven system. 

Other exam providers 

Mr Bell also added that because the set-up means that assessments set by exam boards that are not accredited by Ofqual are not subject to the changes, information is still needed on how these exams will be modified for assessment next year – if at all.

“COBIS recognises that the DfE have said that the planned changes to GCSE and A-level exams will apply as usual to all international schools sitting any Ofqual-regulated exam board exams and that regulators of iGCSEs and iAlevels will provide their own guidance, as these examinations are not regulated by Ofqual," he said.

“As a result, and again representing its members and the wider international schools sector, COBIS remains in close contact with relevant international examination boards to ensure that that they recognise the importance of providing timely and accurate guidance to all international students and teachers.

The overall message which they are communicating is that they understand the need to ensure fairness and the need to provide the correct level of support for students ahead of next summer’s assessments. COBIS will continue to press for absolute clarity,” he said.

Avoiding confusion 

Mr Bell urged the providers to deliver on this and ensure they avoided a repeat of the deals and confusion that beset the summer 2020 examination period, when communications were “too slow and often ambiguous”.

“There was a significant level of frustration as international examination centres were expected to access public statements posted on exam board websites, in order to access updates and guidance,” he said.

“COBIS has received reassurance from international exam boards that improvements have been made to the communication of key messages, which will be sent direct to international examination centres. This is a direct result of valuable feedback received from schools, students, parents, COBIS and other regional associations.”

Dan Worth is senior editor at Tes

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