GCSEs 2020: alternative dates for the diary

We've all seen the official exam timetable. Now, Stephen Petty reveals what those all-important exam dates really mean

exam timetable 2020

Monday 10 February: Dull, irrelevant-looking message is sent out to all the teaching staff.

It says something about students all completing their GCSE art coursework on some day in the relatively distant future. Few people pay much attention to it. 


The (actual) exam timetable: Key dates for the 2020 GCSEs

Exams: What happens when the teacher takes the test

Literature: ‘To explore gender politics, point pupils to Macbeth’


Monday 20 April: Similar widespread indifference to the annual “re-rooming” email from the schools’ examinations officer.

The (often unopened) attachment contains details of some necessary changes to lesson locations during the exam period. 

Missing the memo

Monday 27 April: Time for the first of the summer whines – about “friggin’ art”, after non-art teachers realise, once again, that one of their last showpiece Year 11 revision lessons will have up to half the class missing. 

Those missing students are, of course, all completing said GCSE art coursework. We may vaguely recall that email, but this does not prevent us from shamelessly delivering the time-honoured: “It would have been nice to have been told.” 

Monday 4 May: An exam board announces that a few of its GCSE maths questions may have been leaked online.

First media outrage of the exam season. This now annual ritual leads to the equally traditional response from the board: "It's a relatively small error, and not a single child will be disadvantaged."

Monday 11 May: The exam season kicks off properly, with GCSE RE. “Why is it always RE first?” some RE teachers complain. 

To which our reply to them must always be: “Because it means that, if any new invigilator seriously messes up in their debut exam, it doesn’t really matter. It’s only RE. I mean, you’re not even an English Baccalaureate subject.” 

This always calms them down. 

Media outrage

Tuesday 12 May: Mr Walpole from geography is dismayed this morning to find that his Year 9 class seems to have vanished, and that the classroom has been invaded by an overspill of GCSE science candidates.

His own class are all waiting for him in some distant corner of the school. Still fuming about losing his GCSE class to “art” a couple of weeks ago, Mr Walpole plainly has not read the exam officer’s 20 April missive, either. 

However, this does not stop him muttering another indignant: “It would have been nice to have been told”. 

Wednesday 13 May, morning: Jake and Frankie are missing from their English literature exam, and no one’s at home or answering calls. The rumour is that they thought the exam was tomorrow, and so have gone off to a theme park with Jake’s dad. 

Dad has spotted some special “exam-oblivion” discount voucher in the paper, and is keen to use it before the expiry date. It’s a suitably chaotic and tragic end to their two-year study of Macbeth and Lord of the Flies

Wednesday 13 May, afternoon: More media outrage, when it’s discovered that one of the morning’s English literature questions on Lord of the Flies somehow managed to ask students to discuss the influence of the three witches’ prophesies on the leader of the feral boys, Romeo Capulet. 

The blundering exam board responds by assuring everyone that "it's a relatively small error, and not a single child will be disadvantaged”.

Stop the pigeon

Wednesday 20 May: “My son had to sit his maths exam in a broom cupboard” is the tabloid headline this morning.

“We had no choice,” says the head concerned. "Half the damned candidates need to have their own individual room nowadays. We don’t have the space.”

Elsewhere, another head breathes a sigh of relief, because no one has reported their own use of one of the staff toilet cubicles as an exam room.

Friday 12 June: The grand GCSE finale: physics GCSE, with added pigeon. 

As summer temperatures start to soar and take their toll, a few exam doors and windows will have been opened to keep students alive. In flies that pigeon. 

The incoming bird/dog/cat etc always gets a mixed reaction from the invigilators. On the one hand, they are plainly thinking: “At last! After weeks of endless tedium we now have something to do!” 

On the other hand, they wonder: “What the hell are we supposed to do now? Why oh why didn’t they let one out in the RE exam so that we could practise?”

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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