Exclusive: Heads want advance GCSE topics by autumn

School leaders' union say teachers must be trusted with advance notice of topics in the autumn term

Catherine Lough

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Headteachers have told the government that schools need to be provided with advance information about GCSE and A-level exams from the autumn term rather than waiting until spring in 2022, Tes can reveal.

In its response to Ofqual and the Department for Education's consultation on GCSEs and A levels next year, seen by Tes, the NAHT school leaders' union has called for schools to be given advance information about exam topics from the start of the academic year.

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In the consultation proposals, Ofqual says that schools should be given advance information in the spring term to help pupils focus their revision and mitigate learning loss - although it suggests that the information release could be moved back in the face of further disruption from the pandemic.

"The government believes it is important that students cover the curriculum as fully as possible, so that they are as well prepared as possible for progression to the next stage of their education," it says.

"However, should the impact of the pandemic worsen, it would be possible for the exam boards to issue advance information earlier in the academic year to help teachers focus their remaining teaching time."

But in its response to the consultation, NAHT said that it "strongly" believes schools should have advance notice of topics from autumn.

"NAHT strongly believes that centres should be provided with advance notice information at the start of the autumn term in order that teachers can effectively plan the use of the remaining teaching and learning time and react quickly to any further disruption in the next academic year," it says.

"Government must trust the profession with this information early in the academic year to enable them to do the very best for each of their students, ensuring they cover as much of the specification as possible and that they are well prepared for the exams and assessments which allow them to progress to the next stage of education, training or employment."

The NAHT adds: "In the next academic year, it will be impossible to find the additional hours needed to “make up” the lost learning time for every student so that each of them has the opportunity to cover the full specification of every one of their qualifications in sufficient depth.

"This is the case even with the tutoring programme and the additional sessions which teachers in every school will offer to support their students.

"If advance notice is provided only at some point in the spring term, the differential impact of the pandemic on students could be exacerbated, serving to advantage those students who have not experienced so much disruption as opposed to supporting those students who have had most.

"In order to have the desired impact on teaching and learning and reducing the differential impact of the pandemic on students, teachers must be provided with the information at the beginning of the autumn term."

The NAHT's response adds that "it is important that consideration is given to the intersectionality of different protected characteristics and potentially disadvantaged groups" – for example, the higher proportions of BAME pupils who are entitled to free school meals.

"For example, if socioeconomic status is a key factor in learning loss and absence rate, it is important to understand that whilst 24 per cent of white British students have been entitled to a free school meal at some time in the last 6 years, this is more than doubled for black Caribbean (47 per cent), black African (53 per cent) and Bangladeshi Students (61 per cent)."

And it says "there is a need to allow sufficient flexibility that students with SEND are not doubly disadvantaged by a one-size-fits-all policy of mitigations".

NAHT adds that it is "deeply concerned about the exclusion of contingency plans for next academic year in this consultation".

"School leaders and teachers were left with little more than half a term to implement the alternative awarding process this year leading to intense workload and a highly pressured summer term.

"Delaying the decisions about contingency plans until the autumn term will feed uncertainty and stress for both students and staff.  NAHT would urge government to ensure that school leaders and their teams are given information on contingency arrangements in time for the start of the autumn term," it says.

And the union has said arrangements for exams and assessments in 2022 must not lead to centres incurring additional costs. 

It adds: "Schools and colleges faced significant additional costs this academic year which have not been reimbursed.

"Government must provide additional funding to support centres in implementing the proposed arrangements for exams and assessments and, should it be necessary, of implementing any contingency arrangements." 

An Ofqual spokesperson said: "We have been keen to gather views from teachers, parents and students as we go through the consultation process on proposals for summer 2022 and have encouraged them to feed into it."

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Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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