Why can't Ofqual tell us the plan for GCSEs in 2022?

Ofqual could make our lives a lot easier by telling us before September how GCSEs will work next year, says Adam Riches

Adam Riches

GCSEs and A levels: Why Ofqual needs to tell schools its plan for exams in 2022

I have been critical of Ofqual’s approach to the exam series this year, and I put that down predominantly to its detachment from the reality of what is happening in schools. 

But, finally, there is a glimmer of hope. At last, we have what we needed for the past two years – some upfront clarity of what we will be doing for exams in 2022

There is a sense of welcome relief – but those of us who have been through the past two series will, of course, take the news with, shall we say, a pinch of salt.

Throughout the pandemic, schools have rigorously stuck to the guidance and instruction of the government and its representative bodies. We are, after all, public servants and have a duty to follow the guidance. At every turn, we have cried out for clarity and time to fully and effectively implement the plans that have been decided (for us, not by us). 

GCSE and A level 2022: Schools left to play Chinese whispers

The sad truth is that clarity and time are not two things that we have been given. Decisions have come at the eleventh hour, and the advice and guidance have been ambiguous, vague and, in some cases, non-existent. 

The impact has been huge on leaders, teachers, support staff and even the admin staff, who have been bombarded with calls and questions about the ever-changing landscape of education. 

Being told that the autumn exam series will consist of a full offer signals strongly that Ofqual intends to make things “normal” again for next summer – so why wait until September to tell us that? The decision has clearly been made to revert back to the pre-pandemic assessment and examination method, yet we must wait until September for the grand reveal. 

Yes, I accept that there is still a level of uncertainty around the direction of the pandemic. And, of course, we must be led by science. But, once again, Ofqual is letting us play Chinese whispers. And, once again, they are not considering what happens on the ground in school. 

Planning starts well before September

The school year starts again in September, but the planning for the start of the year happens much earlier than that. Surely that is obvious to anyone?

Allocations of classes, timetables, curriculum time, assessment schedules; all of these things (and well as hundreds of other aspects) are planned in June and July. It is so much more difficult, disruptive and generally inefficient to respond to changes once learning has started. Once again, we are left wondering what will be. 

The signs, as I say, are pointing clearly in a certain direction, but how much certainty can we have around that? 

The students are the ones who are most impacted by these decisions. We will, as we have throughout all this, respond and do as we are instructed, but it’s getting old. Why have the lessons not been learned? 

I speak as a teacher and a leader who, like so many others, has been put through the mill over the past two years. Forgive me if I am not celebrating at the prospect of the September announcement, even the news will hopefully bring some relief. 

If it has been fully thought through, can you not tell us a bit sooner, to give us a fighting chance of giving the young people what they deserve?

Adam Riches is an assistant principal and senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches

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