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Scrapping exams could see students leave school, says Ofsted chief

Scrapping exams could see students leave school, says Ofsted chief.

The head of Ofsted has warned that scrapping exams could lead to students dropping out of school for the rest of the year.

Following the Welsh Government’s decision to cancel all exams on the basis that disruption caused by the pandemic has made it “impossible to guarantee a level playing field”, Amanda Spielman said that headteachers fear that axing A-levels and GCSE exams next summer in favour of teachers’ predicted grades, will result in teenagers lacking the motivation to continue with school.

Pupils in Wales will instead undertake a series of assessments some of which will be overseen by teachers while others will be externally marked, but taken in the classroom. Schools will be able to decide when pupils should take the tests.

The announcement by the Welsh government follows that of the Scottish education secretary, John Swinney, who had previously announced that National 5 exams (which are equivalent to GCSEs) will not go ahead next spring. Further comment was made that awards will be granted based on coursework and teacher judgment instead. Traditional Higher and Advanced Higher examinations, the equivalent to AS and A-levels, would take place as long as public health advice states that it is safe, he said.

England is unlikely to follow the exam-bucking trend, however, as the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has so far insisted that exams in England will go ahead next summer with a three-week delay to allow for more teaching time.

Ms Spielman, who is chair of the exam regulator Ofqual’s recovery committee as well as head of Ofsted, said that the current Year 11 and Year 13 students have had a “tougher time” than pupils who got their exam results last summer. Speaking to the Commons education select committee, she warned that scrapping A-level and GCSE exams could do “real harm” and said she has not seen any evidence to suggest taking the same approach as last summer would be “sensible”.

She told MPs: “We also know that many, many schools strongly believe that with so much of the structure and motivation for young people having been designed around exam specifications, to say at this point, ‘well, we won’t do that’, many schools fear that a large proportion of older students simply wouldn’t return to school for the rest of the academic year. “So if you pull out something that is a pillar around which the system is organised without something else in its place, you could well end up doing, possibly inadvertently doing, real harm, so these are decisions with many, many consequences.”

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