Online GCSE tests? 'Pie in the sky', say heads

The suggestion that online tests could replace exams disrupted by coronavirus raises 'so many questions', says school leaders' union boss

Catherine Lough

pie in sky

The idea of using online tests for next year's GCSE and A-level exams have been dismissed as "pie in the sky" by a school leaders' union chief.

The possibility of online assessments if exams cannot go ahead next year owing to coronavirus restrictions was mooted by Ofqual chair Roger Taylor when he appeared before the Commons Education Select Committee earlier this month.

Mr Taylor suggested that "online tests" could be used as a "plan B" were exams unable to go ahead in 2021, although Ofqual later said that there were a "number of issues" with these that would need ironing out before they were used.

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However, speaking to Tes, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said Mr Taylor's idea seemed unworkable.

“The Roger Taylor online testing thing strikes me as utter pie-in-the-sky [thinking] given the timescale, in so far as it’s really difficult to see how, if you are doing A-level history, which is reliant on doing essays and so on, suddenly those exam conditions are going to be translated into an online format?" he said.

"After all, in the UK, we have this kind of Fort Knox security system around exams, so the idea that suddenly we’re going to revert to people sitting at their kitchen tables, doing their exams – and none of us quite knowing whether it’s you, your mum, your dad or your brother who got an A* in history last year who is actually doing the paper – raises so many questions."

Mr Barton also raised questions over how an online testing system would be implemented after many young people lost out on remote learning through lack of internet access.

"And of course, what are you going to do about some of the young people who are already on the wrong side of the digital divide, and who won’t have access to whatever online tests might be hastily convened?" he added.

When approached for comment, an Ofqual spokesperson said: “Our strong preference is that exams take place. Exam boards are of the same view, and many students will wish the same, and want the chance to show what they can do in this way. All in the system want as much certainty as possible, and our clear working assumption is that exams will take place.

"We are working with exam boards now to agree a timetable for summer 2021 that will maximise teaching and learning time, ahead of the series."

"But we do have to consider other options: contingency arrangements, should exams not be possible. Online testing is unlikely to be the answer, but we do want to consider all possibilities. There are other options to explore with those representing school leaders and other key stakeholders."

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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