‘I’d like exams to go ahead’ - Ipswich headteacher on next year’s GCSEs

Craig DCunha - executive headteacher at Chantry Academy and Hillside Primary School, which are part

Craig DCunha - executive headteacher at Chantry Academy and Hillside Primary School, which are part of the Active Learning Trust. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Teachers in Suffolk and Essex have called for an end to ongoing uncertainty over whether GCSE exams will be cancelled or delayed next year.

Geoff Barton, former head of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds and the General Secretary of t

Geoff Barton, former head of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds and the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders has welcomed the new rules. Picture: GREGG BROWN

All public examinations were cancelled this year after the coronavirus crisis forced schools to close to all but the children of key workers.

That led to a massive row when regulator Ofqual’s system to decide grades, based partly on schools’ historic results, was scrapped in the face of mounting criticism.

Some have also raised concerns about exams going ahead next year, with many expecting a second spike of Covid-19 - but many, like Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, have said: “Next year’s exams need to go ahead.”

Craig D’Cunha - executive headteacher at Chantry Academy and Hillside Primary School, which are part of the Active Learning Trust - said: “This summer has proved that what Ofqual was trying to do didn’t work and wasn’t in the interests of students.

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“We need a fairer system where they can be confident they can show their talents.”

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He said he was “in favour of exams going ahead” and that he was open to a delay, although he said: “We know that if you delay exams, it has implications for post-16 choices.”

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However, he said: “Students need to know what’s happening early with their exams. Schools need to plan and put the appropriate curriculum in place, so they can have the best chance of success.

“I’d like exams to go ahead because they are a fair reflection of the work students can do.

“However, most students sit about 15 papers and they will want to plan and prepare to make sure they can get their revision ready.

“Students’ lives are pretty complex when you’re talking about exams. It’s such an anxious time for them.

“We know how important exams are to them and what it means for their future.

“There’s such a high level of anxiety for them and we’re just trying to take that pressure away from them, so they can perform at the very best level.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs this week that the government’s plan is for exams to go ahead in 2021.

He added that he is working with the sector to ensure it happens “as smoothly as possible”.

However, it is still unclear when exactly exams will take place.

Jerry Glazier, Essex branch secretary for the National Education Union (NEU), said: “We can’t afford this uncertainty.

“The government is going to have to make a decision very soon - schools need to assimilate that decision and plan how to implement it.”

He said the NEU supports a delay of a few weeks to the exams, although he said it could not be more because of the “logistical implications” of students going on to apply for education courses and apprenticeships.

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However, he also believes it shows the downsides of changes made a number of years to put more emphasis on final exams, as oppose to coursework or teacher assessment.

“We’re asking the government to engage in a proper review of the exam system to make sure it’s fit for purpose,” he said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and former headteacher of King Edward VII School in Bury St Edmunds, said: “We note with concern Ofqual’s position that this situation can be addressed through additional papers and online tests, and that it has sufficient time to work out a solution.

“This sounds very difficult to manage at any scale, and it would surely be prudent to have a contingency plan in place based on some form of assessment in the autumn and spring term which could be used to reliably inform grades in the event that students are unable to sit exams.

“We are very concerned that there is no such back-up plan, and that time is fast slipping away in which to put such a strategy in place.”

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership - which runs a number of Suffolk schools, such as Thomas Gainsborough School in Sudbury and Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill - said: “We are delighted to see the return of students and teachers – with proper lessons already taking place.

“We are confident that both students and teachers are determined to catch up the time that they lost in the summer. We expect to give those who have fallen most behind additional support so they are ready for the GCSE exams next summer.

“We welcome the minor modifications announced to the content in exam papers. Schools are ready for the exams whether they are at their usual time or slightly later.”

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