Government to announce sweeping reforms to England's GCSEs and A-levels

Video report by ITV News Correspondent John Ray

The government will announce sweeping reforms in the coming days for students in England taking A-level and GCSE exams in the summer, ITV News has learnt.

The impact of Covid-19 on schools means that some pupils have been able to spend far longer than others in the classroom this year.

Figures from November 19 - the most recent available - show that one in five secondary school pupils were absent - largely due to Covid-19.

In a bid to make 2021's exams more fair, ITV News understands the government is considering:

  • Students will get advance notice of exam topics.

  • Papers will be graded more generously to recognise the disruption caused by coronavirus.

  • Additional supporting material, such as books, will be allowed in to exams.

  • Special consideration will be given to students who miss exams because of the pandemic.

The latest available information shows that one in five secondary school pupils are not in school, largely due to the pandemic. Credit: PA

However, some critics have called for this academic year's tests to be scrapped altogether.

Education is devolved and in Wales has cancelled GCSEs and A-levels in 2021, while Scotland has called off it's National 5 exams (GCSE equivalents).

Yet the government in England insists exams remain the best and fairest way to assess students.

Critics fear that whatever changes are made to 2021's exams, the most disadvantaged pupils will be hit the hardest, ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports

Last month, it was announced that exams in England will be delayed by three weeks to give pupils more time to catch up on their learning following school closures.

However, education unions have warned 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.

After 2020's exams 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.

2021's exams in England have already been delayed by three weeks in a bid to give students more time. Credit: PA

However, when this year's A-level results were published, thousands of students found their results had been downgraded and many missed out on university places.

Critics said the algorithm used unfairly disadvantaged pupils from less prestigious schools.

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

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.

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