School exams could be axed again next year if Covid surges again

The schools minister said cancelling exams would be a ‘worst case scenario’ but that it couldn’t be ruled out

Exams could be cancelled for the third year in a row if the virus surges again, the schools minister admitted.

Nick Gibb revealed the government has already drawn up a ‘contingency plan’ if exams are axed, which will be subject to consultation.

He told the Commons education committee that youngsters should assume exams were going ahead but ‘we had to prepare for the worst.’

He said: ‘We don’t want to cancel exams. 

‘But we do know that teachers and the school sector do want details of the contingency because they want to know what data they might or might not need to collect.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williams previously vowed to move ‘heaven and earth’ to stop schools closing amid a surge in Covid cases, even hinting classes and assemblies could be held outside to reduce infection spreading.

The chief medical officers of the four home nations are currently reviewing the benefits of vaccinating 12-15 year olds, such as minimising school absences, after scientific experts declined to recommend a widespread rollout to the age group on health grounds alone.

It is hoped a jab booster programme can keep cases at bay and prevent another lockdown, but there are concerns cases will spike after unvaccinated children returned to the classroom this month.

Pressed on the likelihood of cancellations, Mr Gibb replied: ‘My view throughout the pandemic has been that you have to plan for the worst.

The proportion of GCSE and A-level students awarded top grades reached a new high this year after teachers assessed grades (Picture: PA)

‘And my experience so far in the pandemic is that that has generally happened.

‘But I genuinely hope that from now on it will not be like that. But we still have to plan for the worst.’

The proportion of GCSE and A-level students awarded top grades reached a new high this year after teachers were left to decide on marks when exams had to be scrapped for the second time.

The interim chair of regulator Ofqual, Ian Bauckham, assured MPs that work is ‘quite advanced’ should the ‘unthinkable’ happen and GCSE and A-level exams need pulling again next year.

Speaking at the education committee he said: ‘We are planning a joint consultation with the Department for Education (DfE) again later this autumn to propose a contingency plan should the unthinkable happen and examinations are again disrupted.’

Ofqual said it would also detail final plans next month on how 2022’s exams will be delivered and marked.

It was proposed in July that pupils in England could get advance notice of the focus of an exam. However, the suggestions went out for consultation and are not yet finalised.

Mr Bauckham said Ofqual had met with employer organisations this week to discuss grading and a ‘range of views were held’.

He said: There was certainly one view that spoke of the advantages of getting back to 2019 grading standards sooner rather than later.

‘There were other views that said, depending on the way in which the pandemic pans out, it might be that a staged return to 2019 standards would be a better approach.’

Mr Gibb said grading plans would be released next month.

He said: ‘We want the 2022 cohort to be treated as fairly compared with subsequent cohorts and past cohorts in 2020 and 2021, and that’s something that Ofqual is reflecting on as they decide on what the grading system is going to look like in 2022.’

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