Covid-19: A-level and GCSE exams delayed by three weeks due to pandemic, Gavin Williamson announces

Video report by ITV News Correspondent John Ray

Most A-level and GCSE exams in England will be delayed by three weeks next year due to the pandemic, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed.

The 2021 exams will go ahead, but the majority of tests will be pushed back to give pupils more time to catch up on their learning following school closures.

The exams, which usually begin in May, will be delayed to June and July – apart from the English and maths GCSEs which will take place before the half-term.

Mr Williamson said: "Exams are the fairest way of judging performance.

"We’re giving students and teachers the certainty that exams will go ahead in 2021 with more time to prepare plus support from the Covid Catch Up Fund."

It comes after education unions warned last week that moving the timing of exams back slightly was unlikely to make any significant difference to the varied learning experiences students have had this year.

In a written ministerial statement on Monday, Mr Williamson said: “We know that exams are the fairest way of measuring a student’s abilities and accomplishments, including the most disadvantaged.

“We want to give our young people the opportunity next summer to demonstrate what they know and can do.”

Last week, Scotland cancelled their National 5 - equivalent to England's GCSE's - exams in response to the pandemic, with grades now being entirely assessed by teachers and coursework.

The news will be welcome to many students who lost months of education when the nation went into lockdown in March.

After A-levels were cancelled due to the pandemic, the government promised to decide grades with a mix of predictions from teachers and an algorithm that would estimate what the pupil deserved.

When this year's results were published, thousands of students found their results had been unfairly downgraded and many missed out on university places.

The government was forced into an embarrassing U-turn and gave students their predicted grades.

Mr Williamson has repeatedly apologised for the fiasco but refused calls to resign.

The National Education Union (NEU) warned in August it will be "almost impossible" for disadvantaged children to catch up with their peers in their GCSEs and A-levels unless significant changes were made.