Government intends to hold formal assessments in next school year – Williamson

Sign at a school (David Davies/PA) (PA Archive)
17:07pm, Wed 16 Jun 2021
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The Government intends to hold exams and formal assessments including GCSE and A-levels in the next academic year despite disruption to learning amid the pandemic, the Education Secretary has confirmed.

Gavin Williamson announced that phonics screening checks for pupils in Year 2 will also be going ahead in the autumn term after the assessments for Year 1 pupils were cancelled this summer.

His comments came as teachers across England are finalising decisions on their pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

Speaking at the Festival of Education UK, Mr Williamson said he “completely” rejects speculation that grades this year will not be an accurate reflection of students’ abilities as he said he backs teachers.

Looking ahead to next year, he said: “I can confirm that it’s our intention that exams and other formal assessments go ahead next year, the GCSEs, A-levels, and vocational and technical qualifications.

“We’re working with Ofqual and others to consider what we need to do to make sure grades are fair, even if there is further disruption ahead.”

Gavin Williamson (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Williamson added: “Just as for older pupils, we continue to plan for a full programme of primary assessments in the 2021/22 academic year, including the introduction of statutory reception baseline assessments and the multiplication tables checks, and will confirm full details in due course.

“Like last year, we’ll be running phonics screening checks in the autumn, so if there’s any pupils who need support with phonics it’s spotted early.”

Teachers are able to draw on a range of evidence when determining pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades this summer, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.

Schools and colleges across England have until June 18 to submit grades to the exam boards.

Speaking at the online event, Mr Williamson said: “I know many of you will have been working so hard to ensure students get the grades that they deserve this year.

“But, like all of you, I’m aware of some speculation suggesting that grades this year will not be an accurate reflection of students’ abilities.

“I want you to know that I completely reject these views.

“I back teachers.

“They know their students’ capabilities and the quality of work they’re able to produce.

“With thorough guidance and a robust quality assurance process, I know teachers have been doing their utmost to ensure that every student gets the grade that they deserve.”

Last summer, the grading of students became a fiasco after exams were cancelled when schools and colleges were closed during the pandemic.

Thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn which allowed them to use teachers’ predictions.

When asked what he would go back and do differently during the pandemic, Mr Williamson said it was the grading of assessments last summer.

He said: “I think on reflection what we saw (was) an algorithm that didn’t produce the result of fairness that we expected it to produce.

“That was certainly my deepest regret.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Asking schools to administer a phonics test in the autumn term for every child in Year 2 is a completely unnecessary bureaucratic burden at a challenging time and for zero academic value.

“Teachers will already be assessing all children, identifying their wellbeing and academic needs, including in phonics, and providing the support that those children need.

“An additional test and formal data collection exercise is wrong.

“We have suggested to government that teacher assessment is sufficient to gather the information which is needed, but their lack of trust in the profession is getting in the way of sensible solutions.

“This is the last thing schools need next term when they want to be able to focus on supporting those children who have missed out on schooling this year as a result of the pandemic.”

A spokesperson for the More Than A Score campaign group, said: “This is a bitterly disappointing decision for parents, teachers and, most of all, primary pupils, especially coming in the wake of mounting opposition from all sides to the current assessment system.

“The Government has missed a golden opportunity to put children’s wellbeing and mental health, the very basis of effective learning, at the centre of their recovery programme.

“Instead, under these plans, from September, primary school children will face high-pressure, high-stakes assessments in five out of seven school years, with all the associated stress and anxiety they will bring.

“Statutory assessments are the wrong way to assess where ‘catch-up’ is required.

“They will be neither accurate, giving only a snapshot of learning taken under stressful conditions, nor timely, they are by definition a retrospective accountability measure and therefore of no use to support children’s learning.”

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