Teachers' assessments will replace exams in England

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

Teacher-assessed grades will replace GCSE and A-level exams in England, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.

Exam regulator Ofqual will now have to devise how this will work.

The education secretary said that he would "trust in teachers rather than algorithms", a reference to problems in last year's exam results.

He added that the Department for Education and Ofqual, the exams regulator, “had already worked up a range of contingency options”, which would be finalised soon, with help also from exam boards and teaching organisations.

Last summer, the government also cancelled exams and grades in England were initially awarded after teacher assessments were adjusted via an algorithm, a plan scrapped days later when the results process was condemned as 'arbitrary' and penalising more deprived pupils.

Mr Williamson was criticised for the decision to close English schools on Monday night, after millions of students had returned for one day after Christmas.

The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said wherever Williamson went, “chaos and confusion follows”.

“It’s disappointing that he didn’t make a new year’s resolution to avoid U-turns or chronic incompetence," Green said.

Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, warned against repeating the "shambles" of last summer's cancelled exam season.

He said rather than a "vague statement" of how exams would be graded, ministers should already have a system ready in place - and it was a "dereliction of duty" that it was not already prepared.

In his statement, Williamson said that he never wanted to be in a position where the government had to close schools again.

“The last thing any education secretary wants to do is announce that schools will close, and this is not a decision that the government ever wanted to take.

Remote learning criteria and provisions

Williamson said it would be "mandatory" for schools to provide "high-quality remote education" of three to five hours per day.

He said added that the government had “significantly stepped up” digital support where students kept out of school were unable to access online lessons, with a million laptops and tablets purchased and 750,000 to be distributed by the end of next week.

BTec exams

Vocational exams, such as BTecs, are carrying on, if schools and colleges decide to continue with them.

However, if students cannot take BTec exams this month as planned, they will be able to take them at a later date or otherwise still be awarded a grade, if they have "enough evidence to receive a certificate that they need for progression", says the awarding body Pearson.

An Ofqual spokeswoman said they could consider options for replacement exam results, academic and vocational, "to ensure the fairest possible outcome in the circumstances".

Meanwhile, Scotland and Wales have already called off summer exams, and on Wednesday, Northern Ireland’s education minister, Peter Weir, announced the same plan.