Exams 2021: International sector calls for clarity

COBIS calls on Department for Education to provide clarity on whether or not international schools will be subject to the same GCSE and A level changes

Dan Worth

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

The British international schools’ sector has urged the government to provide more clarity on whether or not the major overhaul to the 2021 GCSE and A level exams will apply to them as well.

Despite a raft of measures being announced by the Department for Education (DfE) for schools in England, there is no clear guidance on whether international schools will be subject to the same changes, despite the fact many schools follow the same GCSE and A level curriculums and use the same exams.

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Colin Bell, the CEO of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), told Tes that the organisation is seeking urgent clarification from the DfE on this point.

“Following today’s DfE announcement regarding 2021 examinations in England, representing the thousands of students studying British exams overseas, COBIS has contacted relevant DfE officials to request absolute clarity on the impact this announcement will have on them,” he said.

“Once again, it’s disappointing that the significant cohort of students and schools based overseas is not referenced in official DfE communications. What message does this send to the British international schools sector and beyond?”

He continued by saying that addressing this promptly was vital given how many people around the world will be potentially affected by the changes.

“COBIS continues with its commitment to support the DfE and examination boards to channel accurate details regarding 2021 examinations to students and schools worldwide.

“In terms of student wellbeing and the wellbeing of teachers, parents and the wider school community, eliminating doubt and misinterpretation of information connected to 2021 examinations is of paramount importance.”

Meanwhile Mark Leppard, the chair of the British Schools in the Middle East (BSME), has also raised concern over the lack of focus on international schools.

"The UK Government’s recent statement regarding the 2021 summer exams in England is moving towards retaining exams during the pandemic. It has begun to consider the impact of missed schooling, but it has not addressed these issues for British schools overseas which account for a considerable number of schools sitting GCSE and A level exams each year," he said.

"We hope some clarity follows so that the students in international schools who will be sitting GCSE and A levels are reassured, treated equally and not at a disadvantage to their UK-based peers. As a not-for-profit organisation with 144 school members in the region, BSME will be working with other member organisation to seek clarity from the exam boards and UK Government immediately."

He added that the BSME - which has 144 school members based in the region, would be working with other organisations in the sector for more clarity from the government immediately.

Mark Steed, principal and CEO of Kellett School, the British School in Hong Kong, said at least that there was clarity on AS-levels, but noted the lack of anything similar for iGCSEs.

"International schools often take a combination of domestic GCSEs, which are covered by this announcement, and iGCSEs. Once again there is no clarity around the arrangements for iGCSEs in the Secretary of State’s statement," he said.

Another head, speaking anonymously, was more forthright in their criticism of the government announcement and the impact it has had on staff, parents and pupils.

"The announcement was extremely vague and met with a groan from most of us; stirring up anxieties for parents and students who, in turn, bombarded us with questions that we cannot answer," they said.

"Unless it’s concrete, don’t make an announcement. It’s talking for talking’s sake and we’ve had enough of trying to get on board with knee jerk, unfair decisions, that we end up having to defend to crying students."

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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Dan Worth

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