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Exams and assessment

National exams and tests were cancelled in 2020 and there are proposals for changes to exams and assessment in 2021: find out what this means for you and your child.

Primary

Arrangements for academic year 2019/20

  • All the tests the Government normally requires schools to give to primary children during the summer term of 2019/20 were cancelled. This included SATs in both Year 2 (Key Stage 1 [KS1]) and Year 6 (Key Stage 2 [KS2]), the phonics check in Year 1, the times table check in Year 4 and the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile for children in Reception.
  • Children moving into Year 3 in September 2020 will have missed their KS1 SATs last year. Parents and carers should not be concerned that children will be hindered by this; teachers will be able to use their own assessment to support their pupils moving forward. 
  • Equally, parents and carers should feel under no pressure to teach the school curriculum to their children as part of “catch up” at home during or after the summer break.

Arrangements for academic year 2020/21

  • The Baseline test for children starting Reception class, which was due to be introduced nationally in September 2020 following a pilot in September 2019, has been postponed until September 2021. The NEU has welcomed this. However, the Government has offered schools the opportunity to become ‘early adopters’ of Baseline.
  • Government has said that the KS1 and KS2 SATs, as well as the phonics and times table tests will go ahead in 2021. In addition, the Department for Education (DfE) is proposing to introduce a phonics check for Year 2 pupils, to take place in the Autumn term 2020/21, as those pupils will have missed the phonics test in the Summer term 2019/20.
  • Given the school time that children have missed, and the need to focus on broader issues of their education, the NEU strongly disagrees with these decisions. The NEU believes that schools should be able to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of returning pupils, rather than preparing for tests that will not be a valid or fair measure of the contribution that schools have made to pupils’ learning.
  • The NEU is working with parents, other unions and the campaigning organisation More Than a Score to call for all Government primary tests to be suspended in 2020/21 as schools grapple with the problems of Covid-19.
  • This view has wide support already: in a YouGov poll of parents, commissioned by More Than a Score, more than three-quarters of parents surveyed agreed that the prospect of taking SATs and other formal tests would add to the stress of children returning to school.
  • We are encouraging parents and carers to sign the More Than a Score petition calling for the cancellation of SATs, the phonics check and all formal Government tests in primary schools in 2020/21​.
  • The Government suspended school league tables for 2019/20, however it has not done so for 2020/21. The NEU believes it is 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 and other tests, and to use these test results to rank schools in league tables. The NEU believes that league tables should remain suspended in 2020/21.

Secondary

Arrangements for academic year 2019/20

  • Students have received grades for the 2019/20 academic year and certificates that allow them to progress to the next stage of their education/career. The National Education Union responded to the Government’s mishandling of A-Level results here and to the Government’s U-turn on grades here.
  • The approach used to arrive at these grades differed slightly between the nations of the UK and between qualification type.
  • For GCSEs, AS- and A-Levels, schools and colleges were asked to submit their judgements about the grades they believed each student would have received if exams had gone ahead. A similar approach was taken with the majority of BTECs although exam regulator Ofqual said students on “programmes of study that are linked directly to occupational or professional competence will still need to take an assessment to ensure that their qualification is a valid reflection of their abilities, particularly in high stakes occupational areas.” For the International Baccalaureate, details can be found by following the relevant link below.
  • Schools and colleges were asked to take into account a range of evidence to come to a decision on grades and were not asked to simply report the results of mock exams. Mock results could be used as a part of the process, alongside other elements such as students’ classwork, coursework, controlled assessment and practical pieces.
  • Schools and colleges were aware that many students would have been likely to show further progress had they still been in school or college and could use their experience to take this into account, where appropriate.
  • Schools and colleges were encouraged to ensure the grades were discussed, checked and moderated internally, by Heads of Department and/or the Senior Leadership Team, before they were submitted to the exam boards.
  • Academic research shows that teacher assessments are as reliable and stable as exam scores, and that they come with some additional benefits over exams. As such, parents, students and the wider public can be confident in the grades produced this year.
  • The final grades students received were calculated by exam boards. This “calculation” involved moderation of the grades submitted by schools and colleges via the regulator Ofqual’s proposed standardisation model, which takes into account prior attainment of the students as a group and historical results at their school or college.
  • This means that the grade a student received on results day may not have been the same as the one the school or college submitted to the exam board, as it would have been through the standardisation process before being awarded. Following an outcry from students, parents and educators, the Government announced that the grades awarded to students would be those submitted by schools and colleges, rather than those which had been adjusted by Ofqual.
  • All students who were entered into GCSE, AS- or A-Level exams this summer, including those in Year 10 or below, were permitted to have a grade submitted for them to the exam board by their school or college.
  • Students can appeal grades if they feel the process has not been properly applied. They will have to discuss this with their school or college in the first instance, as appeals must be made by the institution that submitted the grade and cannot be made by individual learners.
  • Students who received grades in August 2020, or those who would have done but could not (such as those who are home educated), will have the chance to sit exams in October (for A-Levels and AS-Levels) and November (for GCSEs), if they wish.
  • The results for these autumn series exams will be released in December (for A- and AS-Levels) and in January or February (for GCSEs).
  • For students wishing to use their A-Level results for progression to training, employment or further or higher education, such as a university course, they should contact the provider of the course to find out if the provider will admit them after the December results.
  • Many universities have indicated that they would not admit students in January, so sitting exams in October may not be of any benefit. There may be an opportunity for students to sit exams in summer 2021 instead, which may prove more beneficial if they cannot enter their new course until autumn 2021 anyway. Students will need to discuss their individual circumstances with their school or college.

Arrangements for 2020-21

  • The exam regulator Ofqual has suggested some adjustments to GCSEs and A-Levels in England next year, but the NEU is seriously concerned that they do not go far enough.
  • In England it is proposed that the majority of GCSEs and A-Level qualifications will have assessments covering all elements of the course. In Wales, proposals have been put forward to streamline content in many subjects. Qualifications Wales have said: “this approach is much fairer and demonstrates an alternative that could, and should, be implemented in England.”
  • The proposals in England include removing the requirement to record the spoken language assessment in GCSE English language; allowing GCSE students to observe (rather than undertake) practical science work; and assessing art and design students on their portfolio alone. There has also been some level of reduced content suggested in GCSE English literature and GCSE history. This is welcomed and will reduce the burden on students and teachers in these subjects, but it is not enough.
  • The NEU is of the opinion that reductions must be made in all or most subjects, given the significant time many students have lost. It is not realistic or fair on any student to continue with the expectation that the full specification can be covered in most subjects next summer. Students without access to computers, broadband or positive home working environments are likely to be further disadvantaged if course content is not reduced. The union has launched a petition urging the Government to take action on this.
  • Ofqual, the exams regulator, is also looking into the possibility of a two to three-week delay to exam scheduling, with GCSE exams starting after the summer half term. The NEU thinks that delaying exams by a matter of weeks is not enough to make up for the months already lost, never mind any further potential time that may be lost due to subsequent waves of the virus or local spikes and lockdowns.
  • We are particularly concerned at the Government’s statement that fewer adjustments are needed at A-Level because these students are older and more motivated. This suggests a lack of understanding of the situation that many students face. If there is a lack of access to computers, broadband or positive working environments for an A-Level student at home, then the fact they are a year or two older than their GCSE counterparts does not mean these barriers suddenly disappear.
  • The NEU is continuing to voice its concerns and push for meaningful adjustments to the content of these courses to allow all students a fair opportunity to get the grade they deserve.

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

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