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
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.”