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Exams and assessment

National exams and tests have been cancelled for this year: find out what this means for you and your child.

Primary

  1. All the tests the Government normally requires schools to give to primary children during the summer term have been cancelled for this year. This includes SATs in both Year 2 (Key Stage 1) and Year 6 (Key Stage 2), the phonics check in Year 1, the times table check in Year 4 and the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile for children in Reception.
  2. The Government is keeping the longer-term situation regarding whether and when formal tests will resume under review, with more information to follow. The Baseline test for children starting Reception class, due to be introduced in September 2020, and the KS1 and KS2 SATs in 2021, are part of this review.
  3. There will be no school league tables in 2020.
  4. In a joint union statement, teachers and headteachers have made clear that “it is not reasonable, or feasible, for schools to continue to provide a ‘normal’ school education during this time”. Schools should, therefore, not be setting SATs tests or mocks this year. As the Department for Education (DfE) has frequently stated, SATs are supposed to be an accountability measure of the performance of a school, not the basis of the curriculum for everything chidren learn in primary school.
  5. Parents and carers should feel under no pressure to teach the school curriculum to their children at home. The NEU’s advice on Distance Learning underlines that “keeping minds active and happy, ready to return to school when the time comes is the most important factor.”
  6. Schools may wish to provide parents and carers with an end of year report on pupils. NEU advice is that this should be general and ‘light touch’. Schools should not be trying to grade children in detailed ways.
  7. Although this may not be “business as usual” regarding formal tests, teachers and schools are trained and well used to assessing children’s achievement and progress in the course of school life. During this period of lockdown there should be no expectation that teachers will be assessing children or setting them work relating to formal tests. Parents and carers should not be concerned that once schools reopen their child will be hindered in any way by the absence of Government tests, since teachers will be able to use their own assessment to support their pupils moving forward.
  8. It is understandable that parents and carers will be concerned about what happens in the autumn term, which will begin after a period of unprecedented disruption. Both children and teachers will need time to settle back in and build relationships. We believe it would be wrong to place pressure on teachers – and through them on children – to make up for the effects of three months’ absence with intensified efforts to prepare for SATs. Schools will need to support pupils and give them a sound start, recognising that they will have missed much practical and emotional preparation. Given the time that children have missed, and the need to focus on broader issues of their education, the NEU believes that there should be no SATs in 2021.

Secondary

  1. Students will still receive grades this summer and certificates that allow them to progress to the next stage of their education/career. Currently, exam boards are aiming to award certificates earlier than the usual dates, in mid-August if possible. 
  2. The approach to arriving at these grades will differ slightly between the nations of the UK and between qualification type.
  3. For GCSEs, AS- and A-levels, teachers will be asked to submit their judgements about the grades that they believe each student would have received if exams had gone ahead. There has not yet been an announcement on vocational qualifications, such as BTECs. For the International Baccalaureate, details can be found by following the relevant link below.
  4. Teachers will be asked to take account of a range of evidence to help them come to a decision on the grades and will not be asked to simply report the results of mock exams. Teachers can use mock results, alongside things such as classwork students have completed, coursework, controlled assessment and practical pieces, to come to their judgements.
  5. The decisions can be made by teachers based upon work which has already been started or completed to this point by students. Exam boards are aware that work completed after schools shut down may well be done in very different environments, depending on a student’s home circumstances. Teachers and leaders will be aware that many students were likely to show further progress had they still been in school or college, and can use their experience to take this into account, where appropriate.
  6. During their training, teachers are taught how to assess their students in many different ways. Teachers assess as standard practice throughout their lessons and in more formal ways at different stages during the year. As such, we are confident that teachers will be able to fulfil what exam boards and the regulator are asking of them.
  7. Exam boards and regulators will be providing clear guidance to teachers on what they are asking them to submit and how they are asking them to come to their grade judgements.
  8. Academic research shows that teacher assessments are as reliable and stable as exam scores.
  9. The final grade received by students will be calculated by the exam boards. They will consider the judgements teachers submit, along with other data and evidence – similar to the information which is used for setting grade boundaries every summer – to produce the final calculated grade students receive. In turn, this will all be overseen and checked by the independent regulator.
  10. Schools and colleges are not permitted to share the grades they submit to exam boards with anyone, including students, parents and carers. The regulator is keen to avoid any undue pressure on teachers from anyone who may seek to influence results, just as they would be keen to keep confidential exam information secure in a normal year. Sharing these grades would be against the regulation of the process, similar to if an exam board or marker shared with a student what mark they got on an exam, before they received their overall grades in August.
  11. Students will have the chance to appeal exam boards’ grades and to sit exams at the earliest reasonable opportunity once schools and colleges re-open in the autumn, or in summer 2021.
  12. The exams and qualifications regulator Ofqual is also proposing to permit all students who were entered into GCSE, AS or A-Level exams this summer, including in Year 10 or below, to have a grade submitted for them by their school or college. Ofqual is currently consulting publicly on the issue.
  13. There will be many more questions that have not yet been answered and the NEU is working with all awarding organisations and regulators to ensure more information can be passed on to schools, teachers, parents, carers and students as quickly and clearly as possible.
  14. For those students who were due to take their exams next summer there are further issues to consider. There are five teaching terms, and one exam term, in a usual GCSE or A level course. But those who are taking their exams next summer will have had a maximum of 3.5 terms of teaching – with a possibility of disruption this autumn as well. It is not possible to “catch up” the missed curriculum and it would be a mistake and unfair to ask schools, teachers, or pupils to try and do this. The priority should be to provide support for pupils as they come back into school, not pile on even more pressure. We think that exams need to be very different in 2021 to 2019, if they are to happen at all, and that this should involve slimming down content and removing exam pressures. We are continuing discussions with Ofqual and hope to see more progress on these issues after the extraordinary arrangements for summer 2020 have been put in place.

Further information from various awarding organisations, the regulator in England, Ofqual, and the DfE

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