GCSEs 2021: Private heads 'fuming' after 'buck passed'

If schools were run like the government has managed exams policy, they would be 'beyond special measures', says HMC

Catherine Lough

GCSEs and A levels 2021: Read the Ofqual chief's letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson

Education secretary Gavin Williamson seems to be "passing the buck" to schools over arrangements for exam alternatives this year, private school heads have said.

Following Mr Williamson's announcement that exams would not go ahead this year, Simon Hyde, general secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference – a body representing elite private schools in the UK – said that school leaders have been left "fuming" by the lack of clarity over how students will be assessed.

Mr Williamson said yesterday that GCSEs and A levels would not go ahead this year, and that some form of teacher assessment would be used.

In full: The key announcements from Gavin Williamson's speech

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"This year we’re going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms," he told the Commons, referring to Ofqual's statistical model for moderating grades last summer, which was abandoned in a government U-turn that led to teacher-assessed grades being awarded instead.

Dr Hyde said that if schools had been managed in the way that the government has formulated exams policy, they would "be beyond even the most special of special measures".

He said that Mr Williamson had "repeatedly told us" that exams were the fairest form of assessment.

"Now with equal vehemence and without a word of apology, he tells us that A-level, AS and GCSE exams will be cancelled and schools in England will remain closed until half-term," he said.

GCSEs and A levels 2021: School leaders 'quietly fuming'

On Mr Williamson's vote of confidence in teachers as opposed to statistical modelling, Dr Hyde said that this "would be encouraging had we not heard this last year whilst his department and Ofqual were inventing an algorithm to supplant centre assessment grades".

"We are now in January and the teachers concerned have been given no idea of what they are assessing, when they are assessing it or how it is being assessed," he added.

"Students are left in limbo and school leaders will be quietly fuming. If schools were run on this basis, they would be beyond even the most special of special measures."

"All of this was, sadly, foreseeable. Action in September to significantly reduce syllabus content would have provided students and teachers with certainty on which they could build.

"Developing confidence is an essential part of any good teacher’s job, but it does not appear to be a requirement for a secretary of state."

Dr Hyde said the announcement had left school leaders with more questions than answers, such as how teachers could account for students' lost learning, how a robust alternative to exams could be ensured and when training would be made available to staff so that this could be delivered.

"Schools and teachers will be doing all they can to keep students focused and engaged, whether or not they are taking an examination, but they are also being given another massive responsibility normally exercised by examination boards," he said.

"At present, we are rightly asking much of our teachers and school leaders, but it feels suspiciously to me as though the secretary of state is looking to pass the buck."

Dr Hyde's blog forms the latest scathing criticism from headteachers over the government's announcement that it would cancel exams.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said yesterday that the failure to produce an "off the shelf" plan B for exams was a "dereliction of duty" by the government.


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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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