Release date: 03/12/2020

The government has announced a set of extra measures to “boost fairness” and  support students ahead of exams and assessments in 2021. The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has insisted that exams and assessments will take place in 2021 but has issued a package of measures in recognition of the disruption to learning caused by COVID-19.

Exams and assessments

The measures work collaboratively to ensure fairness to grades being awarded to students and that as many students sit as many papers as possible to help them move on to the next stage of their education, training, or employment.

In addition to the three- week delay to exams to free up teaching time, additional measures include:

  • More generous grading that sits in line with the national outcomes from 2020
  • Students are to receive advance notice of some topic areas, so that revision time can be focused
  • Exam aids will be provided to cut down in the amount students need to memorise
  • In the event that students become ill or need to self- isolate, they will be able to sit another paper so that students are awarded a grade that is reflective of their abilities.

To understand the full extent and variation of the learning that has been lost, the Department for Education (DfE) has introduced a new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the pandemic to students.

Performance tables and Ofsted

The government has also announced that full Ofsted inspections will not resume until the summer term 2021. From January 2021, Ofsted will conduct monitoring inspections in schools and colleges that are graded “inadequate” and some that “require improvement”. These inspections will focus on areas such as curriculum, remote education and pupil attendance, particularly of vulnerable children.Ofsted can inspect schools if there are ‘serious concerns’, including over safeguarding and remote education.

Test and exam results will not be included in performance tables this year, and instead will provide information other aspects of information for parents so that they still have access to information about their local schools. The information will include attendance information, student destinations and the subject that students are taking at key stage 4 and 5.

Primary assessments will continue in 2021, however there have been changes to aspects of these assessments in recognition of the challenges posed by the pandemic. The changes include:

  • Key stage 1 tests in English reading and mathematics, and the English grammar, punctuation and spelling tests at key stage 1 and 2 will be removed for one year,
  • Schools can take a flexible approach to the administration of the key stage 2 tests and phonics screening check, by extending the original timetable by a week, until 26 May and 25 June, respectively.
  • Primary assessment performance will not be published however , teacher assessment in English reading, writing and mathematics at key stage 1, and all other assessments at key stage 2, will remain.

These measures will help to understand pupils’ lost time in education and support those that need it most, providing vital information to parents and assisting with pupils’ transition to secondary schools.

Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association said: “2020 has brought disruption to learning in schools to a  level never before seen in the modern era, the impact on pupils has varied hugely, but all pupils facing exams this year have already faced unacceptable levels of stress and uncertainty. Today’s announcement is welcomed by the National Governance Association in that we now finally have a statement of intent that will give pupils, parents and carers, senior leaders and teachers at least some clarity on what to expect for exams and primary tests in 2021.

“That said, we can by no means pretend this is the perfect solution, and while we absolutely recognise a perfect solution was not possible given the circumstances, this is a patchy compromise addressing a vastly complicated picture. The anxiety caused by the lack of direction had gone on too long, and we are pleased that there is now a reasonable approach to addressing many of these concerns. But in itself, the announced package isn’t enough, there is still so much to do in addressing the loss to learning for our most disadvantaged pupils and those in areas badly hit by the pandemic this autumn: we will look to the government’s expert group to propose additional measures which will make a difference. NGA also welcomes the move to scrap school performance tables in their normal form for this academic year.

“NGA is very pleased routine Ofsted inspections will not recommence in January. This is the right decision, showing the government is listening, that at least some of the immense pressures schools are facing have been understood. We hope that monitoring visits during the spring term will be conducted in the spirit of providing genuine collaboration and support, rather than causing unnecessary pressure to school leaders already stretched to breaking point.”

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