Secondary schools in England will struggle to host exams for students unhappy with their calculated GCSE and A-level grades while also co-ordinating a wider return to the classroom, school leaders have warned.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it would be “completely unreasonable” to expect all secondary schools to run an additional exam series in the autumn term amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
It would be a “significant challenge” to accommodate exams alongside face-to-face lessons, while providing vital support to students who have been out of school for six months, heads warned.
The NAHT is calling for “local hub centres” to be set up for students who want to take exams, with the Government covering any additional costs.
Students in Year 11 and Year 13, who had their GCSE and A-level exams cancelled this summer, will be able to sit exams in October and November if they are unhappy with their calculated grades, under proposals by Ofqual.
The best solution would be for local hub centres to be set up for students to take exams in the autumn term
But head teachers have suggested an additional autumn exam series in all secondary schools could detract attention from students who will need more academic and wellbeing support after being away from class.
Secondary schools and colleges in England are opening to more pupils in Year 10 and Year 12 this week after the Government said they should have “face-to-face” support ahead of their exams next summer.
Last week, the Government said it is working towards bringing all children back to school in September.
NAHT is calling for an urgent detailed “coherent” plan from the Government ahead of the new academic year.
Mr Whiteman said: “It is vital that schools can focus on what is needed for their current students whether that is a phased reopening, improving remote learning or face-to-face teaching.
“The proposal that all secondary schools will run an additional exam series in the autumn term is completely unreasonable in these circumstances.
“The best solution would be for local hub centres to be set up for students to take exams in the autumn term with any additional costs borne centrally by Government.”
Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), said: “Independent schools would be keen to be involved to see which schools in which areas could operate as hubs because there are complications over accommodating pupils for that autumn exam series.
“You need exam hall space and you need to ensure that those children can be taught effectively, that the teaching can be accommodated alongside the normal operations of the school.”
Ofqual’s consultation on its proposals on the arrangements for the autumn exams closed last week.
In a letter to heads on Friday, Sally Collier, the chief regulator at Ofqual, said: “We understand the logistical challenges schools and colleges will face in the autumn, and the potential for public health restrictions to impact on the planned series.
“We will continue to talk to the sector, and prepare for a range of contingencies, as we finalise our approach.”
An Ofqual spokesperson added: “The exam boards and DfE are exploring ways in which it might be possible to minimise additional burdens on centres, while ensuring that exams remain accessible to students.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Following the cancellation of this summer’s GCSEs and A levels, students will have the opportunity to sit an exam if they are unhappy with their grade.
“We recognise schools and colleges will need support in delivering these, and we will work with the sector, including teaching unions, over the coming weeks and months to ensure practical solutions are found and students have the opportunity they deserve.”