The Daily Telegraph

A-level and GCSE syl­labuses may be cut

Min­is­ters urged to come up with plans for cour­ses as White­hall in­sists that 2021 ex­ams will go ahead

- By Camilla Turner education editor

The cur­ricu­lum of GCSES and A-lev­els could be cut back to help pupils pre­pare for ex­ams next sum­mer, it has emerged. Exam boards may be asked to draw up pa­pers that have a greater de­gree of op­tional ques­tions, un­der plans be­ing con­sid­ered by min­is­ters. White­hall of­fi­cials are adamant that ex­ams should go ahead in 2021 to avoid a re­peat of the chaos this sum­mer that saw a con­tro­ver­sial al­go­rithm ditched in favour of teach­ers’ pre­dicted grades fol­low­ing a na­tional out­cry.

‘Schools, col­leges, and stu­dents need re­as­sur­ance that the Gov­ern­ment has a grip on this is­sue’

THE cur­ricu­lum of GCSES and A-lev­els could be cut back to help pupils pre­pare for ex­ams next sum­mer, it has emerged.

Exam boards may be asked to draw up pa­pers that have a greater de­gree of op­tional ques­tions, un­der plans be­ing con­sid­ered by min­is­ters.

White­hall of­fi­cials are adamant that ex­ams should go ahead in 2021 to avoid a re­peat of the chaos this sum­mer that saw a con­tro­ver­sial al­go­rithm ditched in favour of teach­ers’ pre­dicted grades fol­low­ing a na­tional out­cry.

As well as po­ten­tially de­lay­ing ex­ams by a few weeks, min­is­ters are also look­ing at ways to cut down the syl­labus to al­low more teach­ing time.

Ear­lier this year, the exam watchdog un­veiled a se­ries of pro­pos­als for ways in which cour­ses could be cut back to ac­com­mo­date for stu­dents miss­ing months of school dur­ing lock­down.

This in­cluded scrap­ping for­mal tests on spo­ken lan­guage skills for GCSES in French, Ger­man and Span­ish as well as stop­ping sci­ence ex­per­i­ments and can­celling ge­og­ra­phy field trips.

For pupils sit­ting GCSES next sum­mer, a se­ries of his­tory top­ics will be­come op­tional rather than com­pul­sory un­der the plan, mean­ing cour­ses will be short­ened by up to 20 per cent.

But head teach­ers have warned that the changes do not go far enough to make up for the amount of dis­rup­tion that chil­dren have faced as a re­sult of the pan­demic.

Union lead­ers have also called for stu­dents from Years 11 and 13 to be pri­ori­tised for Covid-19 tests to en­sure that they miss as lit­tle school as pos­si­ble be­tween now and the sum­mer.

Nick Gibb, the schools min­is­ter, and Dame Glenys Stacey, the in­terim chief reg­u­la­tor at Ofqual, met the main teach­ing unions yes­ter­day to dis­cuss next sum­mer’s ex­ams.

One source who was present at the meet­ing said that “dif­fer­ent op­tions are still on the ta­ble” in­clud­ing how much to de­lay ex­ams as well as po­ten­tially in­creas­ing the num­ber of op­tional ques­tions in pa­pers.

Fol­low­ing the meet­ing, Julie Mc­cul­loch, the di­rec­tor of pol­icy at the As­so­ci­a­tion of School and Col­lege Lead­ers, said head teach­ers were grow­ing “in­creas­ingly frus­trated” at the “on­go­ing lack of clar­ity from the Gov­ern­ment” about next sum­mer.

“The Gov­ern­ment re­ally does need to get its skates on,” she said.

“Schools, col­leges, and stu­dents need clar­ity over the path ahead, and re­as­sur­ance that the Gov­ern­ment has a grip on this is­sue.”

All the ma­jor teach­ing unions as well as the or­gan­i­sa­tion rep­re­sent­ing school gov­er­nors have urged min­is­ters to pub­lish con­tin­gency plans for the 2021 ex­ams.

This could in­clude the cre­ation of “re­serve pa­pers” for stu­dents who are un­able to sit ex­ams on a par­tic­u­lar date – if, for ex­am­ple, they are self-iso­lat­ing – but c ould t a ke t hem s hortly after­wards.

It could also in­volve all stu­dents tak­ing tests dur­ing the school year un­der exam con­di­tions as well as do­ing course­work so that teach­ers were able to pre­dict their grades ac­cu­rately if they were un­able to take ex­ams at all.

An Ofqual spokesman said: “Ex­ams are im­por­tant. Stu­dents, now in their sec­ond year of study for these qual­i­fi­ca­tions, need a chance to show what they can do. Stu­dents will have missed out on some teach­ing and learning – but we can take the truly ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances of this aca­demic year into ac­count as we set stan­dards.”

A Down­ing Street spokesman said that the Prime Min­is­ter was “com­mit­ted to the ex­ams go­ing ahead next year”.

They added: “We are work­ing with Ofqual and the exam boards on our ap­proach, recog­nis­ing the dis­rup­tion they have ex­pe­ri­enced over the last aca­demic year.

“We will con­tinue to work with schools and col­leges, Ofqual and the exam boards to en­sure that the ex­ams that take place in 2021 are fair.”

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