School leaders say they are "very concerned" about the government's lack of a contingency plan in the event that exams cannot go ahead next year.
The Department for Education and Ofqual have set out proposals for exams and assessments in 2022, including several "adaptations" that may need to be made to allow for disrupted education.
But the Association of School and College Leaders has criticised the proposals for failing to include an alternative plan in the event of exams being cancelled again.
Revealed: How 2022 exams could be adapted
Such a backup plan would be "common sense", given that exams have not been able to go ahead either this year or last because of the Covid crisis, according to ASCL.
And the NAHT school leaders' union has said that delaying a decision on contingency planning into the autumn term will add to the uncertainty facing schools.
Responding to the proposed adjustments for exams, Julie McCulloch, ASCL’s director of policy, said: “We are very concerned that the consultation does not include proposals for a contingency plan in the event that exams cannot go ahead in 2022.
“The last thing we want to see is exams cancelled again but given what has happened this year and last year it is simply a matter of common sense and prudence to map out a contingency plan at this stage.
“Students, teachers and leaders deserve to know what this would look like as soon as possible, so that they can plan accordingly, rather than decisions being left to the last minute yet again.”
The Ofqual consultation also asks for views on plans to give advance notice in the spring term of the subject areas that will be examined in 2022.
Ms McCulloch said this would reduce the risk that students will face questions on subjects they haven’t studied in sufficient depth because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.
She added: “The key question is when this advance notice should be given. The proposal in this consultation is that this should happen in the spring term next year.
“There will be mixed views on this. Some school and college leaders will feel this is too late and that advance notice should be given earlier because students have been so badly affected and need this time. Others will feel this is the right decision in order to keep learning as broad as possible during the autumn term and avoid narrowing of the curriculum.
“We would encourage leaders to respond to the consultation and we would strongly urge the government and Ofqual to keep this matter under review and be prepared to bring advance notice forward if disruption continues next term.”
The consultation does acknowledge that there “remains a small risk that there is further disruption to education during the next academic year which is so extensive that even with remote education in place and the adaptations we propose, going ahead with exams would not be the fairest approach for students”.
It says that DfE and Ofqual are working together to develop contingency plans for scenarios where exams cannot be held for any reason, either locally or nationally, or where individual students are unable to sit exams owing to illness or self-isolation.
An Ofqual survey on the process of awarding teacher-assessed grades will feed into this work, the consultation paper says.
But Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of the NAHT, said: “Delaying the decisions about contingency plans until later in the autumn term will feed uncertainty and stress for students and staff.
“They must be given some clarity about the 'what ifs' in the year ahead. It is vital that the government learns from the late decisions and guidance this year which left school leaders and teachers with little more than half a term to implement the alternative awarding process.”
Mr Brook also said schools have needed this information on exams for 2022 sooner in the year.
He added: “This consultation is necessary but yet another demonstration that the government is way behind the curve when it comes to the impact of the pandemic on education.
“In reality, all of this should have been put to bed weeks, if not months, ago. We are only days away from the end of term.
“School leaders wanted decisions for adaptations and contingencies made before the summer break, with details before the start of term in September, not least because August will be a busy month supporting students with their results and working on reviews and appeals.”