School leaders expect the government to have a plan B in place soon in case the Covid crisis prevents some exams from going ahead next summer.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said it would be “too humiliating” for the government to be in the same situation as this year where GCSE and A-level exams had to be cancelled because of the pandemic without an alternative plan in place.
And Ofqual has said that it is looking to learn lessons from this year and is working with the Department for Education on contingency plans "if the government decides it is not possible for exams to go ahead in 2022."
GCSEs 2022: Exam plan delay 'extremely frustrating'
Covid report: Lack of plan on GCSEs was 'unforgivable'
The DfE and Ofqual have already set out proposals for GCSE and A-level exams in 2022, including several "adaptations" that may need to be made to allow for disrupted education.
School leaders voiced concerns that this did not include a plan B in the event that exams cannot go ahead as planned again next year.
GCSEs and A levels 2022: Calls for contingency plan in case of Covid exam cancellations
However, Mr Barton told Tes that he expects this to change and that alternative plans to full exams will be announced – which could come before the end of half-term.
He said: “From our discussions, clearly we think there should be a plan B, but we also think that there will be a plan B.
“I think that it would just be too humiliating for anyone to be in the same kind of situation next year, so I think we will hear, preferably by the end of October, by the end of half-term, that there are some measures in place in case the full range of exams can't take place next year.”
Mr Barton said this could involve a reduced set of exams being held or a formal week of mock exams being run to give schools an alternative evidence base of student performance.
He added: “I think we don't have to assume it's either all exams or no exams. I think a more sensible approach would be to say, 'Well, what if you can only run some of the exams? How would you then decide which of those would run?'
"Would you say English, maths and science – for example, this is just off the top of my head – or would you say just one paper in each subject.
“There are all kinds of different possibilities, including, I think, the idea – which was something that surfaced in January and then disappeared – that you have a kind of national mock exam week before Christmas, or a fortnight or something like that, so that young people aren't feeling that their heads are spinning because everything they do may end up being used as assessment.
“Instead, they would know that certainly during that week that they will be doing something, probably a past paper, and that may count towards your grades, but it will only count if we need it to.”
GCSE and A-level exams were cancelled this year in January when prime minister Boris Johnson announced that the country was moving into a new national lockdown. This U-turn came after ministers had insisted that exams would go ahead this summer
A consultation was then launched and plans put in place to use teacher-assessed grades for this summer’s GCSE and A-level results.
This resulted in teachers facing what staff have described as "the busiest half-term I can ever remember in education" as schools were tasked with providing evidence to support grades from students’ work.
An Ofqual spokesperson said: “We have been gathering views from teachers and working with the exam boards and DfE to learn lessons from this year’s arrangements.
"We will work with DfE on the contingency plans that will be put in place if the government decides it is not possible for exams to go ahead in 2022."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Exams are the fairest form of assessment and we intend then to take place next summer. We are consulting on arrangements that recognise the disruption young people have faced over the past 18 months, as well as developing contingency plans if it is not possible for exams to go ahead.
“We are working with Ofqual and the sector to ensure strong contingency plans are in place for scenarios where exams cannot be held for any reason or where individual students are unable to sit exams due to illness or self-isolation, and more details will be shared in due course.”
The DfE said that the Prime Minister and the government’s position is clear that the intention is that exams will take place in summer 2022.
However it also added that it was working with Ofqual, exam boards, and representatives of the sector to ensure strong contingency arrangements are in place plans for scenarios where exams cannot be held for any reason, either locally or nationally, or where individual students are unable to sit exams due to illness or self-isolation.