Delay next year’s A-levels and GCSEs, says Labour

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan

Next year’s A-level and GCSE exams in England should be pushed back to give pupils more time to cope with the impact the coronavirus crisis, Labour has said.

Pupils entering Year 11 and 13 who have lost up to six months of teaching time face “a mountain to climb” unless the timetable is changed, shadow education secretary Kate Green said.

Ms Green said exams due next May need to be delayed until June or July to facilitate extra teaching time.

The shadow education secretary said: “Pupils across the country who have missed out on vital teaching time will have a mountain to climb to prepare for May exams unless the government steps in.

“Ministers had warning after warning about problems with this year’s exam results, but allowed it to descend into a fiasco.

“This is too important for Boris Johnson to leave until the last minute. Pupils heading back to school need clarity and certainty about the year ahead.”

Holly Zijderveld, an A-level student from Buckinghamshire said pushing exams back to later in the summer of 2021 should be a "last resort" and only if "they don’t cut any content from the exams.

"I feel like it would have to happen because we’ll need that extra time in order to be actually taught what weren’t taught over lockdown…

"I think my school has been doing really well with the online teaching, but I don’t think any amount of good online teaching can make up for actual teaching – being able to ask questions and being able to work in teams.

"I don’t think it’s comparable even."

The music, geography, and philosophy and ethics student said that the impact of coronavirus on her and her friends' mental health also made learning and retaining knowledge more difficult and sometimes "almost impossible".

Labour is also urging ministers to review the existing support arrangements for post-16 students so that pupils preparing to sit their A-levels are not left without help.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “What is most important is that we don’t see a repeat of this year’s chaos.

“Poor planning and last-minute changes by the Government caused misery for many students. It would be indefensible if that happened again.

“Labour’s suggestion of a delay to help with ‘catch-up’ is worthy of serious consideration.

“A delay is not without its problems, a consequential delay to the publication of results will put pressure on higher education providers such as universities and colleges as well as employers. All this will need to be dealt with.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ““We recognise that students due to take exams next summer will have experienced disruption to their education, which is why we prioritised bringing Year 10 and Year 12 pupils back to school last term.

“Exams will go ahead next year, and we have been working closely with the sector, Ofqual and exam boards to consider our approach.”

Meanwhile a survey of teachers found that nine in 10 believe staying socially distant from both pupils and other staff will not be achievable when schools reopen this week.

A poll of nearly 6,000 school staff in England found that 86% of respondents said minimising contact between pupils will not be possible, while two thirds (66%) fear guidance to avoid busy corridors, entrances and exits is unrealistic.

The wide-ranging survey by Tes also found than more than a quarter of staff (28%) may not comply with the test and trace programme should there be a Covid-19 outbreak at their school.

More than a third (35%) feel that the Government’s approach to coronavirus safety in schools will not work and leaves them “at risk”.