Pupils doing GCSEs and A-levels will sit ‘adjusted’ exams to ‘mitigate’ for Covid disruption


The Education Secretary has said that students sitting GCSEs and A-levels could see their exams adjusted to take account of the disruption caused by successive lockdowns – even after the pandemic ends.

Gavin Williamson told MPs yesterday that he wants to see pupils sit the exams next summer, rather than being assessed by teachers. 

However, he warned that there were likely to be ‘adjustments and mitigations’ to ensure fairness to students now in Years 10 and 12.

Mr Williamson told the Commons education committee he was not expecting an immediate return to exams resembling those pre-pandemic, but instead suggested a package of measures to support the 2022 cohort.

He also failed to give a firm guarantee that exams will definitely return next year, telling MPs: ‘We very much recognise that we can’t predict what we are going to be facing over the coming years’.

‘But we do have the systems and we have much better understanding of the disease and much more developed scientific and medical understanding of the disease in terms of how to cope with it.’  

Exams regulator Ofqual previously said it will lift mandatory requirements for fieldwork in subjects such as GCSE and A-level geography for next summer’s exams.

The Education Secretary’s remarks came as teachers in England finalise decisions on their students’ grades after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

They have on a range of evidence when determining pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards. 

Students sitting GCSEs and A-levels could see their exams adjusted to take account of the disruption caused by successive lockdowns – even after the pandemic ends (file image)

Gavin Williamson told MPs that he wants to see pupils sit the exams next summer, rather than being assessed by teachers. But he warned that there were likely to be 'adjustments and mitigations' to ensure fairness to students now in years 10 and 12

Gavin Williamson told MPs that he wants to see pupils sit the exams next summer, rather than being assessed by teachers. But he warned that there were likely to be ‘adjustments and mitigations’ to ensure fairness to students now in years 10 and 12

Almost half of undergraduates say their courses are ‘poor or very poor’ value for money during Covid pandemic, survey shows 

Students’ satisfaction with their courses is at a record low because of the pandemic, with almost half saying they were ‘poor or very poor’ value for money.

A survey found that 44 per cent of university students are dissatisfied this year, up from 29 per cent in 2019, before Covid-19 struck.

The Higher Education Policy Institute poll found that only 27 per cent thought they were getting good value for money compared with 41 per cent in 2019.

Researchers at the think-tank said it was the lowest level of satisfaction they had ever recorded. 

Mr Williamson told MPs he would ‘far prefer to see children sitting exams’ next summer, but added: ‘We very much recognise that we can’t predict what we are going to be facing over the coming years. 

‘We’re considering what we need to do to ensure that there’s fairness and there’s the right level of support for pupils.’

Quizzed if he expected adjustments to be required in 2022 and in subsequent years, the Education Secretary said: ‘I very much expect there to be, sort of, adjustments and mitigations to be put in place because I think that those youngsters who currently are in Year 10 and Year 12 will have obviously suffered disruption as a result of the pandemic, so I think that you don’t have a situation of immediately switching back to the absolute sort of same state of situation as it was back in 2019.’ 

A recent survey by the Association of School and College Leaders found that the majority of heads in England want a rebate of at least 75 per cent on exam fees following the cancellation of exams.

Tory MP Jonathan Gullis said a concern raised to him by schools is that they are having to pay the usual fees to exam boards, despite examiners and other staff not having to be hired as part of the process.

Mr Williamson said exam boards are responsible for fees, but he added: ‘I would be expecting exam boards to be delivering a rebate to schools at the end of this process as they did last year.’

During the committee, the Education Secretary was asked whether he wanted a longer school day as part of efforts to help children catch up with lessons.

Mr Williamson slammed schools for closing ‘far too early’ and said he is ‘very concerned’ at those schools which send pupils home as early as 2.45pm. 

He replied: ‘I think there are some schools that currently close far too early.

‘I think that actually I want to see, I think lots of schools do it brilliantly and we musn’t forget this because actually the examples we pick on are schools that are doing exactly what we want to actually see where you have got the enrichment, the extra academic time, you have children with the opportunity to play at lunchtime, being with their friends, do other activities.

‘So we have got so many schools doing it, but we do have, sadly, a number of schools that are finishing too early in my view and I don’t want to see that continue.’

MPs asked Mr Williamson how many schools currently remain open beyond 3.30pm. 

He replied: ‘Historically there has been very little, there has been very little information actually sort of published on the actual sort of school day.

‘As I am sure you are aware, it has not been actually as part of something that has been looked at as part of an accountability measure by Ofsted. 

The Education Secretary's remarks came as teachers in England finalise decisions on their students' grades after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row (file image)

The Education Secretary’s remarks came as teachers in England finalise decisions on their students’ grades after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row (file image)

‘So, we have been doing over the last six months more and more work looking at this and we are continuing to do a lot more evidence, build up a lot more evidence of the real benefits of the long school day.

‘But I think there is real benefits of actually a school, I feel very concerned when I see secondary schools closing at 2.45pm, sometimes even earlier, sometimes at 3 o’clock. I would like to see secondary schools going a bit further.’ 

He went on: ‘On average, secondary schools are open for as long on average as primary schools. But in the post-16 environment, actually the average amount of time spent actually declines.

‘We’re the only country in Europe where you see that difference and I think that actually sort of presents some concerns and some worries.’

Sir Kevan Collins – who had recommended that schools should be funded to offer 30 minutes extra every day – quit his role as education catch-up tsar earlier this month, with a condemnation of the Government’s £1.4billion catch-up fund, which he said fell ‘far short’ of what was needed.

Mr Williamson told MPs it is ‘with sadness’ that education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan is not continuing in his role.

He said: ‘I found working with Sir Kevan a fantastic experience. We’ve actually been able to drive so much forward together, whether that has been on the tutoring or whether that is on the sort of teacher quality elements.

‘Of course, it’s with sadness that Sir Kevan isn’t sort of continuing to sort of be able to work as closely as we had been doing.’ 

Responding to Mr Williamson’s evidence session, Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders said school hours are set by governing bodies.

He told the Times: ‘If Gavin Williamson wants to change any of these rules then he needs to bring forward proposals, and if he wants to extend the hours in sixth forms he needs to provide significantly more funding.’    

Schools are ‘not there to be a political space’, Williamson tells MPs as he is grilled on use of the term ‘white privilege’ amid fallout from report on schools in England 

By JACK WRIGHT FOR MAILONLINE 

Schools must be impartial and there is ‘no space’ for them to be showing or pushing political views, the Education Secretary has said.

Gavin Williamson was asked about the use of the term ‘white privilege’ and whether the Department for Education could intervene and tell a school it was not an appropriate term to be promoted or, if it was, that it should be done in an impartial way.

Appearing before the Commons Education Select Committee, he said schools are ‘not there to be a political space’.

He told MPs: ‘While we should always have a tolerance and understanding of different, you know, arguments and viewpoints and a good understanding of a situation, schools are there to create the space for children to learn. They are not there to be a political space.’

Schools must be impartial and there is 'no space' for them to be showing or pushing political views, the Education Secretary has said

Schools must be impartial and there is ‘no space’ for them to be showing or pushing political views, the Education Secretary has said

Asked specifically about use of the term ‘white privilege’, Mr Williamson said: ‘Schools are there and they have to be politically impartial.

‘There is no space for, you know, schools to be showing sort of political views or trying to sort of push that in any form or way whatsoever and that’s something that needs to be always remembered.’

His comments come after the committee produced a report on Monday claiming terminology such as ‘white privilege’ may have contributed towards a ‘systemic neglect’ of white working-class pupils.

The Conservative-dominated committee said white working-class pupils have been ‘let down’ for decades by England’s education system – and ‘divisive’ language can make the situation worse.

The report concluded that disadvantaged white pupils have been badly let down by ‘muddled’ policy thinking and the DfE has failed to acknowledge the extent of the problem.

This map shows the proportion of all white pupils as of January 2020 across England, with blues and purples showing higher numbers and oranges and yellows showing lower numbers. In parts of London, there is a greater proportion of non-white pupils than white pupils. Outside of London, there is a greater proportion of white pupils than non-white pupils

This map shows the proportion of all white pupils as of January 2020 across England, with blues and purples showing higher numbers and oranges and yellows showing lower numbers. In parts of London, there is a greater proportion of non-white pupils than white pupils. Outside of London, there is a greater proportion of white pupils than non-white pupils

This map shows the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and those who are not eligible for free school meals, with red and dark areas showing a bigger gap than lighter areas. Those who are eligible for free school meals are performing better than those who are not eligible for free school meals

This map shows the attainment gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and those who are not eligible for free school meals, with red and dark areas showing a bigger gap than lighter areas. Those who are eligible for free school meals are performing better than those who are not eligible for free school meals

The Government has come in for criticism for its policies to support families on lower incomes throughout the coronavirus pandemic and Tory MPs have been accused of stoking a ‘culture war’ with the report.

Critics say it is the Conservative Government – rather than terms such as ‘white privilege’ – which have failed poorer children.

Media minister John Whittingdale was forced to defend the Government’s record on free school meals and the removal of the £20 increase to Universal Credit.

Asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Wednesday about the select committee report, Mr Whittingdale said he cares ‘about all children’.

But he was questioned over why, if he cares about white-working class pupils, he had voted ‘against free school meals’ during the pandemic.

He said: ‘I voted with the Government in favour of what the Government was doing to support children.’

Campaigning by England footballer Marcus Rashford last year led to a U-turn by the Government, meaning eligible children continued to receive free school meals during the holidays.

Mr Whittingdale said the premise of the question was ‘a complete distortion of the vote that took place’, adding: ‘The Government had a programme whereby we were supporting children in the course of holidays etc during the pandemic; we had our own way – which we felt was a better way – of helping those children and that is what we put forward and continue to do.’

White working-class pupils are one of the worst-achieving groups in the country, MPs said in a report (file image)

White working-class pupils are one of the worst-achieving groups in the country, MPs said in a report (file image)

Asked whether the Government will therefore keep the £20 increase to Universal Credit, which is due to end in October, he said: ‘We will continue to support families in need; the way in which we do so is a matter which obviously… the Treasury and my colleagues in the DWP continue to keep under review.’

Fleur Anderson, Labour MP for Putney, Southfields and Roehampton and an education committee member, previously said: ‘I’m concerned this report will be used to fight a divisive culture war instead of address chronic under-funding of early years, family hubs, careers advice and mentoring, and youth services.’

Asked whether MPs are trying to create a culture war, committee chairman and Conservative MP Robert Halfon said earlier this week that members are addressing decades of neglect of those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report called for a network of family hubs to be introduced to boost parental engagement and mitigate the effects of multi-generational disadvantage.

It added that funding needs to be tailor-made at a local level, initiatives should focus on attracting good teachers to challenging areas, and vocational and apprenticeship opportunities should be promoted.

A DfE spokesman said: ‘This Government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind.

‘That’s why we are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14billion over three years – investing in early years education and targeting our ambitious recovery funding, worth £3billion to date, to support disadvantaged pupils aged two to 19 with their attainment.’

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