International schools seek clarity on UK exam changes

COBIS stresses that schools in other parts of the world are still able to teach for exams set by UK exam boards

Dan Worth

GCSEs and A levels 2021: International schools want clarity over this year's exams

The international school sector is seeking clarity on how the cancellation of GCSE and A-level exams will affect their plans for the rest of the academic year.

The UK government has promised more information on how a form of assessment for GCSE and A-level students will take place on Wednesday, now that schools are to switch to remote learning for at least another six weeks.

For international schools, which are all in vastly different types of coronavirus regimes, the cancellations could mean students who are able to receive the adequate level of teaching to sit exams in the summer are left unable to do so because the usual exam papers are not produced by the exam boards based in the UK.

Colin Bell, the CEO of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), said that clarity was required urgently, given the potential global impact that the cancellations could have.

GCSEs and A levels 2021: What about international schools?

"I understand that the education secretary is working with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements. But what does this mean for the significant number of international schools, which have students studying to sit British examinations in the summer, some exams of which do not fall under the Ofqual banner of regulation?" he said.

"Will this important segment of the global education jigsaw be recognised and highlighted in the secretary of state’s announcement this afternoon in the House of Commons?"

He added that this focus was vital not just to ensure the smooth continuation of education in these schools but also for the health and wellbeing of pupils who remain unsure of what will happen next. 

"Student wellbeing is of paramount importance and prolonged uncertainty connected to summer examinations needs to be avoided at all costs. A fair system of global assessment is what is required.

"The global playing field for examination assessments needs to take into account the significant variables at stake in multiple continents, in addition to different national regions in England and other parts of the UK.

"Absolute clarity of communication is what these school communities want and deserve."

Exam board responses 

Exam boards have acknowledged the situation, with Pearson, which provides iGCSEs and International A levels, confirming that January's international exams would still take place.

International GCSEs and International A levels are used by students around the world and, as such, these exams are still intended to be available as planned,” it said.

However, it said it was still finalising plans for those in nations where exams could now not take place: “We are conscious that some schools will have students who are due to sit International GCSEs in January, but are now required to close due to national restrictions. We will be in touch very shortly with confirmation on arrangements here.

Meanwhile, OxfordAQA issued a statement that it was working to understand if and how summer exams would still take place but that it expected January papers to go ahead where safe to do so.

"If you have students sitting January exams with us, these should still go ahead where it is safe to do so and your local authorities permit it," it said.

"As regards the summer exams, we're sorry that we don't have any more details to provide you with right now, but we promise that we'll keep you updated as soon as we know more.

"Like you, we want to make sure that all students who are studying for OxfordAQA qualifications receive the grades they deserve. As always, our Fair Assessment approach continues to be at the heart of everything we do, and every decision we make."

A spokesperson for Cambridge International told Tes it was aware of the various considerations international schools faced and was liaising as required with them and the government.

“We work with schools in 160 countries and most of our schools are telling us they want to run exams in March 2021 and June 2021 and expect to be able to do so, in line with guidance from their national and regional authorities.

“We continue to prepare for the March and June series to go ahead and are providing a range of measures to help our students and schools manage the impact of the pandemic. Our priorities remain the same, to keep students safe and make sure they can progress with their education.

“We will continue to monitor the situation in the UK and around the world, and listen to feedback from our schools to see what further support they need.”

Responding to the statement, Mr Bell said: "It’s been reassuring that exam boards have responded swiftly to the significant concern voiced by students, teachers and parents from the international school sector worldwide."

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Dan Worth

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