GCSEs 2021: Scrapping exams risks ‘harm’ warns Ofsted

Chief inspector suggests cancelling summer GCSE and A-level exams would see 'large proportion of pupils' not returning to school

amanda spielman

Cancelling next year’s GCSE and A-level exams would take away so much of the structure and motivation for pupils that many wouldn’t return for the rest of the academic year, Ofsted's chief inspector has warned.

Appearing before MPs this morning, Amanda Spielman was asked whether she believed exams should take place next year with a delay, as the government has said, or whether she thought they should they be cancelled, as has been announced in Wales today.

Ms Spielman said there needed to be careful thought before taking away students’ agency in demonstrating what they can do in exams.

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“One of the messages that came across really strongly from young people themselves last summer in the face of the calculated grades model was how much they resented not having the chance to show what they could do for themselves,” she told the Commons’ education select committee.

The chief inspector added: “We also know that many, many schools strongly believe that, with so much of the structure and motivation for young people having been designed around exam specifications, to say at this point that we won’t do that [run exams] makes schools feel that a large proportion of pupils simply wouldn’t return to schools for the rest of the academic year.

"So if you pull out something around which the system is organised without something else in its place you could end up inadvertently doing real harm.”

Ms Spielman, who is also chair of exam regulator Ofqual's recovery committee, gave a little hint about what might be being considered to help candidates who have seen learning disrupted.

Asked if there should be just exams in core subjects, she said: "That is the kind of option that is under consideration but every option creates some unfairnesses." 

The chief inspector was asked by Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, how could there be “a level playing field” for exams after students’ education in some parts of the country had been disrupted more than in others?

She said: “We need to think more widely this year than we did last year.

"Last year, we hung too much on trying to use grades as the vehicle by which we dealt with all Covid unfairness.

"There is no question that Covid has thrown a massive slug of unfairness and uncertainty into the system and it’s a multi-year job pulling that back, and it’s about more than just what you do with exam grades so [it’s about] getting that wider perspective.”


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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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