Covid: GCSE and A-Level pupils will 'absolutely' sit exams, education secretary says

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has told ITV News that GCSE and A-Level students will "absolutely" sit their exams despite a delayed return to school in January.

The government announced on Wednesday it was delaying some pupils' return to schools in England amid rising coronavirus rates.

All pupils in exam years will return to secondary schools from January 11, while the rest of secondary and college students will go back full-time on January 18 - a delay to the planned return to school .

Asked if exams will definitely go ahead for pupils sitting their GCSEs and A-Levels, Mr Williamson said: "Absolutely. On January 4, all year 11 and year 13 pupils will be starting their remote education after the Christmas break.

"On January 11, every year 11 and year 13 pupil will be returning back to schools for face-to-face teaching. We're prioritising them as we recognise for them to have the best life chances, they need to be in school."

He added he was confident that schools would be able to return by the new timetabled deadline set out on Wednesday.

Mr Williamson said: "We're rolling out a mass testing regime across every single secondary school. Instead of that being optional as we were planning for it to be, this is something that we're expecting every school to implement.

"As a result of that we've decided to give them extra time to do that."

He also said an additional £78m would be given to schools and all the equipment would be provided to ensure Covid-19 tests are carried out.

"Exam year groups are going to be returning on January 11 in every secondary school across the country."

"The following week you'll see all children returning back to secondary school.

"We want to give people as much notice as possible."

Who will go back to school when?

The 'majority of primary schools will return on January 4 except those where infection rates are highest.

  • Years 11 and 13 of secondary school will return on January 11.

  • All other years and college and university students will return on January 18.

  • Where schools are closed, only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face lessons.

  • Mass testings will begin in the first week of schools for secondary and college students and teachers.

Up to 1,500 armed forces personnel will be drafted in to help support schools in "exceptional cases" if they are struggling with testing, the education secretary said.

He added: “At every stage we’re making sure that children are able to benefit from getting a brilliant education that we want all our children to get.”

Some primary schools in the areas hardest hit by Covid-19 would also have their reopening in January delayed. A full list is available here.

The government had come under increased pressure from teaching union and staff to delay the return to schools.

Speaking the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Williamson said: “We’ll be opening the majority of primary schools as planned on Monday, January 4. We know how vitally important it is for younger children to be in school for their education, wellbeing and wider development. “In a small number of areas where the infection rates are highest we will implement our existing contingency framework such as only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face."

Watch the announcement in full:

Northern Ireland has followed England's suit by delaying a return to schools as infections continue to rise across the Irish Sea.

For years eight to eleven in secondary schools, remote learning will continue throughout January, education minister Peter Weir announced.

Childcare settings, including those attached to schools, pre-school facilities, nurseries and special schools, will open as usual next week.

Schools will also accommodate vulnerable children and those of key workers next week.