With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding the arrangements that have been put in place for awarding qualifications this year and next year.
Fairness to students was at the heart of the decision that a national exam series this summer could not go ahead, and fairness will remain our guiding principle in 2022. I believe and this Government believe that, all other things being equal, exams are the fairest way to assess students, but we cannot ignore the fact that covid-19 has caused disruption to education throughout the year as we took steps to reduce the spread of this virus, protect our NHS and save lives. It would simply have been unfair to ask students to sit exams as they would in a normal year, which is why in 2021 students will receive grades decided by the people who know them best: their teachers. To ensure fairness, that applies to GCSEs, AS-levels, A-levels and the vocational and technical qualifications that are most like those general qualifications and that lead to similar outcomes and destinations for students.
There was widespread support for our approach because it was the fairest approach. In January, we launched a joint consultation with Ofqual on the methodology for determining grades. It was the largest consultation in the Department’s history, with more than 100,000 responses from students, parents, teachers, school leaders and other stakeholders. We considered those responses very carefully.
Supported by teachers, parents and students, the approach taken means that every student has the best possible chance to show what they know and can do, enabling them to progress to the next stage of their education, training or employment. We took this course of action because teachers are the people who have the best understanding of their pupils’ performance. Teachers were given flexibility to choose from a range of evidence to underpin their assessments, including coursework, in-class tests set by the school or college, optional questions provided by exam boards, and mock exams.
Importantly, teachers assessed students only on what they had been taught, with students able to see the evidence used to assess them before their grades were submitted. Schools and colleges received guidance, support and training on how to do so fairly. Exam boards also issued grade descriptors pegged to performance standards from previous years to help teachers to make sure that their assessments were fair and consistent. Although teachers will determine grades, headteachers and principals have to sign off all grades, and there have been further quality assurance checks by exam boards to provide meaningful assurance of the system and root out malpractice.
I am pleased to update the House by saying that more than 99.9% of all teacher-assessed grades have now been submitted for this year. After submitting teacher-assessed grades, the exam boards asked all schools and colleges to submit evidence, a sample of which was checked to ensure that the process by which grades were awarded was correct and that they represented a reasonable exercise of academic judgment. More than 90% of that evidence was submitted within 48 hours.
I am pleased to report that the process of evidence checking is almost complete. As of
Teacher-assessed grade results will be issued on 10 and
It is only fair that, where students wish to improve their grades, they have the opportunity to sit an exam this autumn, as was the case last year. Exam boards will offer autumn exams in all GCSE and A-level subjects, and in maths and science AS-level subjects. These exams will take place over October, November and December.
We have also set out an appeals system for this year, should students believe a grade is wrong. Students can ask their school or college to check for errors first and, if necessary, submit a formal appeal to the exam board—as in any other year, grades can go up or down on appeal.
This approach, taken together, is the fairest for every student, and it retains faith in our grading system. This approach gives universities and employers the confidence they need that students have achieved grades that align with their ability and their work. Ultimately, the grades that students receive will do what they have always done: they will be young people’s passport to the next stage of their lives.
As we look forward to results day, I would like to thank all universities and colleges for their commitment to ensuring that students have access to the opportunities needed to succeed. I know that universities across the country stand ready to put students’ interests at the heart of decision making, and to ensure they have the time to carefully consider their options and make the best choice for the future.
As I have said, all other things being equal, exams are the fairest way of assessing students, and it is our firm intention that exams should go ahead in summer 2022. The Department and Ofqual launched two joint consultations on
For GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels, we are proposing a package of measures that includes four elements. In those GCSE subjects where it is possible to do so without undermining the assessment, we propose that exam boards should provide a choice of topics on which students will be assessed. In all other examined subjects at GCSE, AS-level and A-level, we propose that students and teachers should receive advance information about how the content of exams will be focused. We propose to reduce the burden of non-exam assessment in some subjects. Finally, we propose that students will be allowed to have access to support materials in the exam room in a small number of GCSE subjects.
For vocational and technical qualifications, the consultation sets out a range of proposed measures for those qualifications that are included in performance tables, including adaptations such as streamlining assessments, early banking of assessments and providing revision guidance. We are working with Ofqual and wider stakeholders on contingency plans to ensure that students are able to receive grades that are fair, even if further disruption occurs.
In putting together these proposals, we have been guided by the overarching principle of fairness. The proposed measures on which we are consulting are intended to help students progress to the next stage of their lives, and to succeed when they are there. We look forward to receiving views on the proposals and plan to announce final decisions on adaptations, as well as further details about contingency plans, in the autumn term.
I know that students who will take these exams next summer have faced a huge amount of disruption to their education this year. In addition to these measures, we are already investing huge sums to help them catch up so that they are ready to sit these exams. That is why schools have access to both a catch-up and a recovery premium to enable them to assess what will help their pupils to catch up on any lost education and to make provision available to ensure that they do so. It is why we are targeting support for 16 to 19-year-olds to those who need the most support through the 16 to 19 tuition fund, giving disadvantaged students access to one-to-one and small group tuition.
This year, the fairest possible approach to awarding qualifications has been to empower teachers to decide the grades that allow students to move on with their lives, whether that be in education, training or work. None of this could have been achieved without the hard work of our headteachers, teachers and wider education staff, to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude. I also thank parents and students who have shown patience and flexibility over the past 18 months. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
On the final day before the House rises for recess, I pay tribute to teachers, school leaders and support staff in every part of our education system for all that they have done this year and will be doing over the summer.
Last summer, the Government’s incompetent eleventh-hour cancellation of exam results and the chaotic arrangements for awarding qualifications created confusion and huge distress for thousands of young people. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister have had a full year to learn from their mistakes and to get things right this time, but that time has been squandered. For months, school leaders, teachers, teaching unions and the Labour party, among others, warned of the need for a plan B if exams could not go ahead this year, yet it took until January, even as some young people were actually sitting their BTEC exams, for Ministers finally to announce that exams would not happen this year. That has resulted in concerns about fairness.
The Minister boasted about catch-up support, but this year, more than 560,000 year 11 pupils will be leaving school having received no support to recover lost learning. Even those pupils who did are likely to have received less than an hour of tutoring a fortnight, despite missing well over half a year of face-to-face schooling. Does the Minister believe that he has done everything in his power to ensure that this year’s process is as fair as possible? Will he outline what discussions he has had with universities, colleges, employers and training providers about how all pupils will be able to progress on the basis of their results this year?
I am glad to hear that the overwhelming majority of grades have been submitted. Can the Minister confirm that the work will be fully completed before the end of term? How many grades have been or are likely to be changed in the quality assurance process? I welcome the fact that the appeals process will be free, but to work for pupils, it must be accessible and it must be quick. Can he give me a cast-iron guarantee that all appeals will be processed in time for pupils to take up a place at university, at college, in an apprenticeship or in employment?
Education staff have worked incredibly hard to make work a system that the Government chaotically imposed on them. Will the Minister tell me what support staff are receiving now and what support they will receive over the summer, both professional and personal? Does he really believe it is right that schools will receive the same rebate from exam boards as they did last year, even as the workload of teachers has rocketed under this year’s system? Will he consider following the example of Labour in Wales, which is providing additional financial support to schools to recognise this?
Young people, families and education staff are worried about qualifications this year, but next year will be just as challenging. Once again, the Minister and Secretary of State have had plenty of time to plan before the start of the new academic year this September, yet they have only just launched a consultation, only days before the start of the summer holidays, which is an insult to education staff who desperately need and deserve a break.
Will the Minister tell us why greater topic choices will be available only for some GCSE subjects, and is he not concerned that providing advance notice of exam content, rather than building in greater optionality, could simply embed unfairness, whereby pupils who have spent more time than others on a given topic will do better simply through chance?
Is the Minister really sure that now is the right time to return to national published league tables, unchanged to reflect the disruption that has continued in this year and remains likely next year? Can he say with certainty that league tables will fairly and accurately reflect school performance? I am glad that he acknowledged the need for contingency measures. Will he tell me when they will be in place and when schools and other settings will know what they are?
In his statement, the Minister thanked education staff across the country, but teachers and school leaders will find his gratitude hollow after the shameful way in which he snuck out a real-terms pay cut to their salaries last night. Can he confirm that at least 94% of teachers face a real-terms pay cut as a result of that announcement? Instead of saying that he is grateful with one breath while slashing pay with the next, will he apologise to teachers, pupils and families for the shameful way in which the Government have treated them as an afterthought throughout the pandemic?
No one wants to see a repeat of last year’s exams fiasco, but once again the Government are making policy late and failing to listen. Today the Minister must reassure anxious pupils and parents that every young person will get the support they need this summer and next year, that staff will be supported and that every student will be treated fairly.
I realise that the Opposition have to have a critique, but at every stage we worked methodically with Ofqual, the exam boards, stakeholders and the teachers’ unions to ensure that we devised a process for awarding grades in 2021 that was the right approach. We worked carefully and methodically with Ofqual and the exam boards, learning from what happened last summer, to determine the right adaptations for the 2022 exams in order to ensure that they are fair given all the disruption that students have suffered. We wanted to launch the short consultation before the summer break, which we did on
The hon. Lady raised the issue of the appeals timetable. For priority cases—where students have missed out on their firm university choice and wish to appeal results—students should request a centre review by
The hon. Lady asked about exam fee rebates. The exam boards have all confirmed that they plan to provide rebates to schools this year. Some have made announcements on the rebate already. The Department will be providing funding to exam boards directly to support the appeals costs and any autumn series losses they make. This will enable the exam boards to pass more funding back to schools via rebates.
The hon. Lady mentioned performance tables. There will be no performance tables in 2021. In 2022 there will be performance tables for GCSEs and A-levels, but not for primary school SATs, given that adaptations cannot be made in that regard.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of teachers’ pay. We do know, and I acknowledge at every possible opportunity, that teachers and support staff have worked incredibly hard over the last 16 months, adapting schools to covid and learning and preparing to teach children remotely for the first time. Teachers are very much on the frontline in the fight against the pandemic. In the September 2020 pay award, teachers received an average increase of 3.1%, with starting salaries rising by 5.5%. The cumulative pay award for teachers since 2018-19 is 8.5%. The pause on pay rises this year is across the public sector, except for health, and is designed to help address the public finances following the financial response to the pandemic. Of course, the pay pause does not prevent pay rises as a consequence of promotion or performance-related pay.
Mr Deputy Speaker, may I quickly take the chance to thank Mr Speaker, you, all the staff of the House of Commons and the other Deputy Speakers for the incredible way in which Parliament has gone on and enabled people who have been shielding to participate? It has been a miracle. I would have liked to say that had I been called in business questions to the Leader of the House.
Of course, we all want exams to take place, but given that we know that 1 million pupils were not in school this week and that 93,500 children have hardly returned to school since schools reopening on
My worry about the approach the Minister set out is that requiring exam boards to provide advance information about exam content and support means that the Government are in essence reducing a 100 metre race to a 50 metre race while keeping all the pupils at the same starting point whatever their disadvantage. The pupils who have experienced the most lost learning will still be the most disadvantaged compared with those who were in school more at the time. Could he at least consider ensuring a level playing field and taking a more nuanced data-driven approach that takes into account the fact that millions of children have experienced lost learning? That could be done by increasing the time allowed to do the exams or adjusting the grade weighting to reflect the number of days that pupils have lost.
My right hon. Friend’s thoughtful question raises an important point. We did consider a range of alternatives to the proposal on which we finally consulted on
Last month, the Secretary of State said:
“We very much hope and intend for exams to go ahead in 2022”.
That was a statement not exactly brimming with confidence. As the school year draws to a close, more than 1 million school pupils in England, including a third of all secondary school students, are absent because of covid. Are the Government confident that the decisions they have made recently will not affect the ability of schools to reopen safely in October or to stay open safely for the whole academic year, and that young people sitting exams will not be let down for a third year running?
There is a clear plan that exams will go ahead next year. A large proportion of the pupils who are not in school at the moment are out as a consequence of self-isolating because they have been a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for covid. From
We are determined to do all we can to identify asymptomatic cases of covid, and all the measures in schools—including ventilation and hygiene—will remain in place despite the move to step 4 to ensure that we minimise any risk of transmission of the virus on school premises. As I mentioned in my opening statement, we are also working on contingency plans should it be necessary to cancel exams next year because of the direction of the pandemic. Our very firm plans are to proceed with exams, because they are the fairest way of assessing young people.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does he agree that exams are the fairest way not only to assess the pupils’ ability in their subjects but to give them certainty about how they will be assessed? The rigour of the tried and tested exam system will help avoid the sad cases of anxiety and mental health challenges that far too many of our young people have suffered given the disruption of the pandemic.
My hon. Friend is right. When we considered the raft of options, we took that into account. Some adaptations may appear on the surface to be fair, but because they are so different from what has happened in the past teachers are not used to teaching to that approach and students are not used to taking exams with it.
We have been working very closely with the education sector, the teaching unions, Ofqual and the exam boards, and we have, I believe, devised the fairest approach to ensuring that students are able to receive their grades, have their qualifications, and, most importantly, move on to the next stage of their life. That is what we are all seeking to do. There are rigorous quality assurance processes at every stage, from within the schools to the exam boards, and they are designed to ensure that grades are awarded fairly and consistently.
I thank all the teachers and staff in Dudley South and across the country who have gone above and beyond throughout this pandemic. Clearly students completing qualifications this summer have had their studies disrupted hugely, but those who will sit exams next summer have also faced massive disruption and could be competing against others who were awarded grades this summer or last summer for college and university places. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that students completing courses next summer will not be at an unfair disadvantage?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is why we have set out in the joint consultation document with Ofqual all the adaptations to exams next year, taking into account the fact that most students will have suffered some disruption to their education by next summer. The issue of grading is a matter for Ofqual and decisions about grading will be made in the autumn term.
Despite warning after warning, this Government have let covid disrupt the education of millions of children this summer. Young people have had to endure so much this year. Does the Minister not recognise that young people need certainty over the next few years, not more U-turns, for the sake of fairness, their planning and their mental health? Assessing their whole learning journey through a range of different teacher-based assessments with robust moderation will bring that certainty, not the final exams.
I understand the point the hon. Member is making but I have to say I disagree. I believe very firmly, as do the Government, that exams are the fairest method of assessing pupils’ attainment. It is also a workload issue for teachers. Throughout the pandemic, as we have devised a system to ensure that young people can move on to the next stage of their lives, we have always taken into account the workload implications for teachers and schools.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I agree with what he said and what he just said about exams. I pay tribute to teachers in Newcastle-under-Lyme who have gone above and beyond this academic year, as I know they will next year, to help pupils catch up with lost learning. Can he confirm that the measures he has set out will not be putting any undue additional pressure on teachers?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Teachers, support staff and headteachers have worked incredibly hard in schools and colleges during the pandemic, making sure that schools are covid-secure, adapting to remote education, teaching both remotely and in class, and keeping schools open throughout the whole period for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. We do absolutely have teacher workload at the forefront of our minds as we devise policy.
My local schools have collated and moderated hundreds of pupil grades, while facing a mental health crisis and catch-up, with none of the assistance from the exam boards that the Minister spoke of—presumably they have all been on full pay throughout. Can he guarantee that the A-level students of next year who missed their GCSEs last year will have in-person exams? Can he also guarantee, for a profession that in west London has significant staffing gaps and faces burn-out, that teachers can now have five weeks completely offline, or are they going to have nasty surprises as they did last year? His boss, again absent, seems to think that the holidays have already started.
Teachers have been very well supported by the exam boards, with guidance, training and grade descriptors. We want to try to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support teachers through this process. We know that, despite all that support, it has been a big task for teachers to get these grades, and it is a remarkable achievement that a very high proportion were delivered by schools on time by
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that students will be examined only on what they have actually been taught, in recognition of the acute impact that this year has had on their studies. Both students and teachers need certainty. Will he ensure that teachers will have the materials and resources they need to give their students that confidence?
Yes. We have set out in the consultation document on
Students and teachers in Luton North are deeply concerned by the Government’s plans to cut BTEC qualifications. The Association of Colleges warns that the plans risk closing down routes for training to work for many working-class young people, but should we expect anything else from a Tory Government who do not know what levelling up is, let alone have the ability to deliver it? BTECs are valued, successful and popular at Luton sixth forms, so will the Minister confirm whether BTECs will continue to be funded? If so, for how long?
This is all as a result of the consultation on level 2 and level 3 qualifications. There will be a process that exam boards, with employers, will go through before decisions are taken.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to exams going ahead in 2022. Does he agree that they are particularly important for disadvantaged students, as we know from a number of studies that their potential is often underestimated by their teachers and it is only with their exams that they show what they are capable of?
Yes, my hon. Friend makes a very good point, and his example is one reason why exams are the fairest system of assessing students. But we are also aware that disadvantaged students have suffered disproportionately compared with the average in terms of disruption to their education, which is why the recovery premium and the 16 to 19 tuition fund are designed for and targeted at students from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular.
As the Minister implied, students currently in year 10 have arguably been hit harder than any other cohort, having missed most of year 9 and had a hugely disrupted year 10. So is it not ridiculous to reintroduce performance tables, given the massive disparity of the impact of covid on different schools and different pupil cohorts? He said that fairness is the guiding principle, but how can the Government possibly build fairness into performance tables for 2022?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. As he acknowledged, there are no performance tables in 2021. In 2022, there are no performance tables for standard assessment tests, but there will be performance tables for GCSEs and A-levels. By 2022, we will not have had performance measures from secondary schools in either 2020 or 2021. These are qualifications for young people that really matter to their life chances, and we are able to make adaptations to them, as I have explained. There is also the notion of comparable outcomes, so they will be a fair reflection of schools’ performance. Parents do need to have that data and that information when making a choice of secondary school for their children. By contrast, in primary schools we have not been able to make adaptations to the SATs in 2022, so we did not feel it was fair to continue with performance measures for the 2022 SATs.
I thank all the heads, principals, lecturers, teachers, staff and, indeed, pupils and students across Harrow for all their work during the pandemic. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving an early indication of what is going to happen next year, but we know that the teacher assessments may, in some cases, produce unusual and strange results. Will he come back to the House in the autumn to report on the number of appeals, on the number of individuals who have opted to take the examinations and on what the impact of that has been? Then we can all learn from the experience of teachers and lecturers during the pandemic.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We will of course be able to publish data on the number of entrants to the autumn series. Undoubtedly, Ofqual will be publishing details of the appeals process. I assure my hon. Friend that the quality assurance process is rigorous. The exam boards have carried out a check of each school and exam centre’s approach to assessment and internal quality assurance. Headteachers have to sign a head of centre declaration form, to confirm that the grades submitted are fair, accurate and in accordance with the processes they have agreed. Schools submit a sample of evidence of how they determined those grades, and the exam boards will review centres whose grades are significantly out of line with previous years. They will challenge schools where the evidence does not support the grade awarded. I hope that quality assurance process will provide some reassurance to my hon. Friend.
In my recent visits to secondary schools in Twickenham, year 10 and 12 pupils told me how anxious they are because of the lack of clarity on exams in 2022—whether they will even go ahead, how they might be assessed and what they might be assessed on. Teachers told me that, with all the disruption, they want to focus their precious face-to-face teaching time on parts of the syllabus that will definitely be assessed next year. Can the Minister please commit to putting pupils, parents and teachers out of their misery by providing a clear steer on 2022 assessments, and not sometime in the autumn but by the beginning of September?
We published the consultation, jointly with Ofqual, on
It is likely that this summer will see a huge rise in grade inflation, beyond what we saw last August. This benefits nobody in the long term, particularly those in future exam cohorts from disadvantaged backgrounds in places such as Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. Can my right hon. Friend explain how grade inflation will not be baked into the system, to use the words of my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon, in the 2022 exams and beyond?
Parents and pupils can have confidence that the grades awarded this summer will be valid. They are supported by detailed guidance, as I said in answer to a previous question, and there is a robust quality assurance process. We trust teachers’ judgment, as they are best placed to understand the content that their students have covered, their students’ performance and how it compares with other students this year. Grading is a matter for Ofqual, and some decisions will be made about that in the autumn term.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his personal hard work and fortitude as schools Minister throughout the pandemic. He has done a fantastic job. Will he join me in congratulating all the students and teachers in Kettering on their efforts to keep education going over this very difficult period? When it comes to A-level exam students in 2022, will he bear in mind the important point that normally, when a person takes their A-levels, they have taken GCSE exams two years before? This cohort of A-level students will never have taken exams. Can he confirm that, all things being equal, we will be back to normal in 2023?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments, and I join him in paying tribute to teachers and staff in schools in Kettering—indeed, throughout the country—for what they have achieved during the pandemic and for the way that they have managed to cope with the teacher-assessed grading system this year, which has been very well handled. He raises an important point that, of course, this year’s year 12 have not taken GCSEs. All this was taken into account when we devised the adaptations that we have proposed for 2022, and I can give him the assurance that we will return to normal in 2023.
As teachers and students across the Aylesbury constituency begin their summer holidays, I thank them all for their incredible efforts this year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in doing so, and will he reassure them that the plans he has announced today will not penalise them for the disruption that they have suffered, but will mark an important step back to an exam regime that is both rigorous and fair?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to teachers and staff in schools in Aylesbury, who I know have worked as hard as teachers throughout the country in making sure that children can catch up as swiftly as possible on lost education. He is right that we want to get our exam system back to normal as swiftly as possible, but I believe that, given the disruption that students have suffered over the past 16 or 17 months, the adaptations that we proposed, together with Ofqual, in the consultation document that we published on