Exams 2021: how do the changes affect your calendar?

What do school leaders need to do now in light of the exam date changes? Headteacher David Thomas makes some suggestions

David Thomas

2020 international events calendar for schools

Questions around how exams will take place in 2021 are finally being answered. The government announced this week that the majority of GCSE and A-level exams in England and Wales will be pushed back to June, with exams running as late as 2 July.

Regardless of your views on whether this is the right decision, school leaders have got to manage this change to the school year. Fortunately, there is time to prepare. Here's what I'm thinking about:

Don't peak too early

Preparing for exams is an art form, whereby you try to get students to peak at the right moment. Too early and they do their best performance on a mock; too late and they've missed their chance. With exams being moved back by three weeks, the risk is that we keep on our normal timelines and students peak too early. I'm considering:

  • Do we need to adapt the curriculum to space out teaching and use the extra time well? There's a limit to how many lessons you can do on exam technique
  • Do we need to adapt our revision schedules so students don't run out of past papers early? With relatively new GCSE courses and no papers from last year, there is a limited supply.
  • Do we need to move our mock exams to reflect the later, real exams?
  • How do we stop staff burning out from having a longer run-up to exams, and all the intensity that comes with it?

Manage the end of the year

The end of the school year follows a fairly tried and tested schedule in every school, with few changes from year to year. We can't follow that schedule this year. I'm wondering:

  • Do we move Year 10 and Year 12 mocks to before the real exam season starts? There's very limited time to sit and mark papers afterwards.
  • How do we adapt to the loss of most gained time? We usually use this for curriculum development to invest in the year ahead.
  • We don't do study leave, but if we did I'd be asking whether that should still start at the same time (or at all).

Prepare for 2021-22

It is hard to imagine thinking about the next school year when there is still so much uncertainty in this one. However, the change to results days (24 August for A level and 27 August for GCSE) means we will have to change the way we prepare for the new school year. I'm thinking:

  • How do we provide post-results careers support on a much tighter time frame? If someone doesn't meet an offer, then we normally have much more time to help them find an alternative.
  • How do we manage workload with both results days being so close together? It's important to make sure the same staff aren't still busy with UCAS support when they also need to help with GCSE results three days later.
  • How do we manage sixth-form enrolment so close to the start of the school year? We normally have at least a full week to prepare timetables, ID cards and so on, as well as to sort any admissions issues.

None of these problems is insurmountable. The best way to minimise the disruption is to deal with the necessary alterations now, well before the summer.

David Thomas is a maths teacher and principal of Jane Austen College, a mainstream state secondary school in Norwich

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