Summer A-level and GCSE exams cancelled: what happens now?

The Government’s announcement that all schools in the UK will close for most students included the news this year’s summer examination sessions for GCSEs and A-levels are cancelled.

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Speaking on Wednesday at a scheduled press conference on the COVID-19 emergency, Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged “we’re asking such a huge amount, asking students to put their education on hold.”Following the news schools in the UK will close from today (Friday), Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added further detail, confirming: “Fighting Coronavirus and protecting the vulnerable and our NHS are the Government’s top priorities right now. “We will not go ahead with primary school assessments or secondary exams this summer, and we will not be publishing performance tables. “We will work with the sector and Ofqual to ensure children get the qualifications they need."

Decision offers 'certainty'

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), which regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England, said it welcomed “the certainty that the Secretary of State’s decision not to hold exams this summer provides in these challenging circumstances."“We will now work urgently with the Department for Education to work through the detail of this decision and to provide more information as soon as possible.”Commenting on the government’s decisions, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, also applauded the government’s stance. “We welcome the Government’s announcement that, for public health reasons, schools will now close. It is better for this to take place in an ordered way than the chaotic pattern of closures that was developing.“We also welcome the clarity that SATs, GCSE, AS- and A-Level exams are to be cancelled. This offers some degree of reassurance to teachers, their students and parents.”

Teacher assessment basis for GCSE and A-level results

While further information about how students due to sit A-levels and GCSEs this summer will be assessed is yet to be detailed, Mr Courtney backed the idea that teachers’ evaluation and students’ past performance and exam predictions will form the basis of their final grades.“We note that, at this time of emergency, the government has decided that teacher assessment is indeed a good method of giving reliable information about young people’s progress and achievements,” he said. In what is a conversation likely to involve universities, employers as well as teaching representatives, Mr Courtney said “We will return to that when this crisis is over.”In Wales, David Evans, Wales secretary for the National Education Union Cymru, said: "We will be waiting for more advice and guidance from the Minister and Welsh Government on this - making things clear for learners and educators alike. “We know many students will be worried about their exams. We believe now is the time for a sensible approach. “Wales is in a good position where students’ marks are concerned. Here we still have more coursework and AS levels, so will have evidence of young people’s work. We know teachers will know their students by now and what grades they can expect.”

'No missed opportunities'

Universities UK, a body representing vice-chancellors and principles of universities in the UK, also sought to reassure students and schools amid the need for more detail on how final grading and moderation will take place.While Universities UK awaits further information, Alistair Jarvis, its chief executive, said “students should not lose out on the opportunity to go on to university this year because of the challenges posed by the pandemic.”Spokesperson for UCAS, the shared admissions service for higher education, Clare Marchant, its chief executive, said: ‘We will be working through the implications of today’s announcements for students, teachers, universities and colleges over the coming days, which was one of the scenarios we were planning for.’“Flexibility within the admission process will be enhanced and extended to deal with the coronavirus outbreak and the announcement that there will be no exams this year. We are confident that our team and systems are ready to adapt throughout the spring and summer."We will continue to work closely with colleagues across the education sector including Ofqual, the Department for Education, the Scottish government, Office for Students and Universities UK. As soon as any changes are confirmed, students will be emailed to explain how this might affect them, so it’s important they keep their email address up to date in Track. We will also communicate further and extend support to all of customers during these challenging times.“We are committed to working closely with the government, UCAS, examination regulators and school leaders on the practical implications of this and hope there will be clarity on this for students, parents, teachers and university admissions staff as soon as possible.”

Advice for students: 'keep studying'

For students who’ve been working torwards their summer exams for the past 18 months and now on the final push, Laura Rettie, vice president of global communications at Studee, an international university admissions helpline, advises them to continue as they were.   "A-level students are going to be facing an incredibly stressful time,” commented Ms Rettie. “These students will have already completed their university applications and offers are generally reliant on A-level results. It’s really important that the government make it clear to these students what will happen next."If you’re a student who is waiting to take exams, it’s important to keep studying and revising at home as if your exams were going ahead until you hear otherwise. Continuing to study will put you in the best possible position if exams do go ahead so you have the strongest chance of getting into your university of choice."

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