The impact of cancelled exams

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, says there will be “a number of consequences” following the cancellation of exams this summer

There will be a number of consequences following the cancellation of GCSEs and A-level exams this summer.

Firstly, many teachers will have been working to try to ensure 16 and 18-year-olds are doing something to continue learning between March and September, while confined to their homes.

Schools tend to be setting work online. This is important because pupils need continuation of education and, if they do not work this summer, will be behind all previous cohorts of similar aged children when schools reopen.

Year 11 pupils (those whose GCSEs have been cancelled) could now embark on their chosen A-levels. In the past, pupils changed their A-level choices once they saw their actual GCSE grades.

It would seem unwise to do that this year – the judgement they have already made about A-level subjects should be based on passion and aptitude for the subject, rather than the results of a computerised grading system that has had to be implemented in a crisis.

Pupils need continuation of education and, if they do not work this summer, will be behind all previous cohorts of similar aged children when schools reopen

Year 13 pupils may be offered ‘university preparation’ courses by their schools to help avoid too long a gap in studying prior to starting university. This could be especially beneficial to sixth formers planning to take a gap year beforehand, who stand to have quite some time out of education.

When my daughter went to Bristol University, her first piece of marked work was in week six. It would be reasonable for universities to set and mark work as early as they can this autumn (assuming they can reopen then). Freshers may need to be kick-started into work.

The biggest issue is that the Year 11 and 13 cohorts will not have had the same system of revision and final exams for their GCSE and A-level subjects. This matters because we know that revision commits knowledge to the long-term memory, which is fundamentally important.

Imagine embarking on a French A-level if you have not memorised all the grammar and vocabulary from the GCSE – you will be far less competent than similar students in previous years. So in some subjects (like languages and maths) schools may have to resume the summer term GCSE revision classes that were cancelled before plunging into the A-level courses.

What will happen when the results come out in July/August?

Many Year 13 pupils will get into university. They may already have received an unconditional offer. Many stand to be admitted even if their results are below their offer because universities, having lost overseas students, will probably be looking to fill places.

There will be an appeals system but I am afraid that pupils and schools will only be able to appeal on the basis that the exam board processes were incorrectly applied. They will not be able to appeal with the argument ‘I would have done much better than this’.

If a student is not satisfied with their assigned A-level grades and does not get a place at their first choice university, they may decide to sit the rescheduled A-levels in the autumn. The question is: ‘Will it be too late to go to university this autumn?’ Well, we hope that universities will show flexibility to ensure that students who take this option are able to begin their course with a delayed start time.

Barnaby Lenon is the chairman of the Independent Schools Council.

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