GCSEs 2021: 'Best education systems are running exams'

Education secretary says England’s decision to differ from Wales and Scotland and keep exams is the same as in Singapore and Germany

keeping  exams

Gavin Williamson has defended the Department for Education's decision to run exams next year by saying the best-performing education systems in the world are also going ahead with them.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, Mr Williamson said countries such as Singapore, Germany and Finland had all made that same decision, which shows that “the best form of assessment is exams”.

Mr Williams was questioned by BBC host Naga Munchetty as to why England had taken a different stance to Wales and Scotland, which have both cancelled exams.

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She said: “Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams said it’s impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams because of the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic. Why do you think that’s not the case?"

He replied: “Countries such as Germany and Singapore and Finland have all been affected by the pandemic but they have equally reached the same decision as we have…”

Ms Munchetty interrupted: “To be fair, Mr Williamson, they’re a lot further away than Wales and Scotland. They’re so close to home yet why are we so different to our neighbours?"

He said: “As we see in terms of high-performing education systems, the best form of assessment is exams and as I touched upon we’ve seen tens of thousands of students over the last few weeks, even during a national lockdown, having the opportunity and successfully being able to take those exams in a safe manner.

"So if we’re able to do that in a national lockdown, I have every confidence we’ll be able to do it in the summer of next year. But we do recognise that students have had an incredibly difficult year…and we have to take extra steps to make sure there’s as much fairness for them."

Ms Munchetty said: “I genuinely don’t understand why the education secretary [in England] has such a different attitude as to whether exams should be cancelled or not to the education minister in Wales, and over the border in Scotland. Why are we divided?”

He said: “It’s recognised in every study that whether you have teacher assessment or whether you have teacher examinations what is always shown is that, if you run examinations, actually children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and children from black and ethnic minority background communities are given the best advantage by sitting the examination and having that test.”

She said: “So disadvantaged children in Wales and Scotland then are going to be more disadvantaged? Because they’re not having exams?”

He replied: “Every study has shown that predicated grades most disadvantage children from the poorest backgrounds. Predicated grades and teacher assessment most disadvantage children from black and minority backgrounds so we do believe that exam assessment is the best form but we recognise that we’re going to have to take extraordinary measures.”

Also being interviewed on Good Morning Britain this morning, host Ben Shephard told Mr Williamson: “Every one of those countries [Singapore, Finland and Germany] has dealt with the pandemic in a very different way. And, of course, what we know here as well is that depending on where you are in the country and depending on the resources your school has had will affect the experience you have had as a student taking those exams.”

Mr Williamson repeated his answer that predicated grades and teacher assessment most disadvantaged children from poorer and black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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