Academies boss says exams in England should be SCRAPPED in 2021

Academies boss says exams in England should be SCRAPPED in 2021 because it would be ‘too big a gamble’ after Scottish National 5 tests were cancelled due to Covid

  • Steve Chalke says going ahead with tests in 2021 would be ‘too big a gamble’
  • Oasis Academies Trust boss wants to avoid ‘playing with young people’s lives’
  • Scotland’s GCSE-equivalent tests have already been scrapped for next year
  • Pressure on Gavin Williamson to water down his exams blueprint for England

Exams must be scrapped for all pupils across England next year because schools ‘can’t guarantee continuity of education’, an academies boss said today.

Steve Chalke, head of the Oasis Academies Trust chain, has said going ahead with tests in 2021 would be ‘too big a gamble, playing with young people’s lives’.

The 64-year-old, whose chain runs more than 50 schools, spoke after Scotland’s GCSE-equivalents were scrapped for next year, increasing pressure on Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to water down his exams blueprint for England.

Asked what should happen with exams in England, Mr Chalke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘I think that we should scrap them.

‘I think it’s the only wise thing to do. I think that to go ahead is too big a risk, too big a gamble, playing with young people’s lives.

Steve Chalke, head of the Oasis Academies Trust chain, has said going ahead with school exams in 2021 would be ‘too big a gamble, playing with young people’s lives’

Exams should be scrapped for all pupils next year, it has been claimed (file picture from 2012)

‘We’ve already had months and months of disruption, and the Prime Minister told us just last night there’s more to come – it’s not going to be rosy.’

Mr Chalke said 30 out of the London-based chain’s 52 schools have already been impacted by sending year groups or bubbles home, affecting about 3,000 children.

He continued: ‘So it’s been impossible to provide for them all a continuity of education – it’s been disturbed, and that means there’s not a level playing field.

‘It exposes the gap between the privileged who’ve got space, peace, internet access, digital equipment and support; and the disadvantaged who lack space, peace, internet access, equipment and in some cases the support as well.’

After school closures followed by grading chaos this summer, Mr Williamson is expected to announce that all exams in England will go ahead next summer to a slightly delayed timetable.

But Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney announced yesterday that a full slate of exams was ‘simply too big a risk’ due to learning time lost this year and the threat of more virus spikes. 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured in the House of Commons on Tuesday) is facing pressure to water down his exams blueprint for England.

Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney (pictured at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh on Tuesday) announced that a full slate of exams was ‘simply too big a risk’

He said Scotland’s National 5 exams would next year be replaced with alternative assessment and teacher judgment, and would not be subjected to disastrous algorithmic checks.

How 93% of parents are worried about the impact of coronavirus on their child’s exams 

More than nine out of 10 parents are concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their child’s readiness for exams, a charity survey has suggested.

A survey of 1,501 parents by charity Parentkind found 93 per cent were either quite concerned or very concerned about their child’s preparedness for exams such as GCSEs and A-Levels next year.

Some 59 per cent of parents in the survey have a child in Year 11, which is typically GCSE year, and another 20 per cent have a child in Year 13, where students take their A-levels or similar qualifications.

Less than 6 per cent of parents said assessment on a full curriculum for 2021 would be acceptable.

Many parents said it would be acceptable to have assessments based on a reduced curriculum (41 per cent), exams with a choice of questions and topics (43 per cent), or exams accompanied by externally moderated teacher assessments (40 per cent).

But when asked to choose one favourite option, teacher assessment without external moderation was the most popular choice, backed by 23 per cent of parents.

More than half of those surveyed (50.43 per cent) supported delaying 2021 exams for a month to allow for more teaching time.

Mr Chalke said: ‘I think that (scrapping exams) is what we’ve come to because we cannot control the virus, we do not know what’s ahead in these months.

‘We can’t guarantee continuity of education or access for every young person, so you can’t have a level playing field. It’s going to further disadvantage the disadvantaged.

‘In different parts of the country, in different schools, different kids have a different amount of time away, different kids have different access or no access to digital equipment – you cannot create a level playing field.

‘And there’s an easier way to do all this. If we think about teacher assessment, teacher assessment based on coursework actually completed by those students in that school.

‘And then if Ofqual comes forward and establishes a national framework, some national guidelines for assessment, and then the third bit we should do is something we’re used to – we did it until a few years ago, we know it works – the submission of coursework for external moderation.

‘Teacher assessment, national guidelines and external moderation.’

In Scotland, Higher and Advanced Higher exams will be pushed back by two weeks in until May 13.

Teaching unions were supportive of the move, in the hope that England will also water down its examination plans.

The four main education unions say that the three-week delay being considered south of the border is insufficient, and there needs to be a plan for pupils who suffer more disruption this academic year.

And Mr Chalke, who is also a Christian Baptist minister, said: ‘Before, it was rushed and hurried at the end because no one put thought in.

‘Every child preparing to sit GCSEs or A-levels, and of course there’s the Sats in primary school which we often forget, every child needs to know where they are, and every teacher needs to know what they’re preparing for.

‘This morning, we’ve already limped through over a month and there are only two terms to go before all this happens, and many kids are out of school this morning. 

Students take part in a march from Marble Arch to the Department of Education in London in August calling for the resignation of Mr Williamson over the exam results fiasco

Pupils celebrate their exam results on August 4 at Linwood High in Renfrewshire, Scotland

‘It’s too big a risk, too big a gamble, we shouldn’t go ahead, we should be bold and make this decision which brings equality now.’

Other figures have also stated their opposition to a resumption of normal exams, with many arguing that students should be focusing on catching up on missed teaching, rather than revising.

The former education secretary who introduced GCSEs, Lord Baker, has said the government should ‘accept that teacher assessment will have to be used again next year’ instead of exams.

Sir David Eastwood and Sir Chris Husbands, the bosses of Birmingham University and Sheffield Hallam University respectively, have also said it would be ‘simply wrong’ to hold A-levels next year.

Instead, they want to schools to be able to ‘extend learning all the way through this academic year, until July’, to make up for the extended period of closures.

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