North Yorkshire teenager undergoing chemotherapy calls for 'unfair' GCSE exam overhaul

Grace Sanderson was due to sit her exams over the next few months but was diagnosed with leukaemia in March. Credit: Family photo

A teenage girl with cancer is fighting for change after she was left with "no choice" but to take her GCSEs - despite undergoing gruelling chemotherapy.

Grace Sanderson, a pupil at Northallerton High School, was due to sit her exams over the next few months but was diagnosed with leukaemia in March.

The exam boards told her family that despite sitting two sets of mock exams, if Grace is too ill to take the tests, she won't get any grades.

Grace, 16, told ITV News Tyne Tees: "It's unfair. I'm being treated like I'm choosing not to go to school.

"I've got to have my treatment and put my health first."

Her mother, Emma, believes in circumstances like these, teacher assessments should be counted, like they were during the pandemic.

Emma said: "Our daughter and other teenagers in similar situations should not be penalised for having cancer."

A petition calling for the change has now reached 6,000 signatures.

Grace said she feels like she is "being treated like I'm choosing not to go to school". Credit: Family photo

Grace was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia on 11 March after completing most of the GCSE syllabus for her chosen subjects.

Three days later, she began gruelling chemotherapy treatment and spent 17 days in intensive care.

She has now completed two out of four rounds of the treatment and is having to sit at least one paper for each subject, otherwise her family will not be able to appeal the grades.

Grace has been given the option to repeat the year but this would mean the coursework she has already done wouldn't count and she wouldn't be able to move up with her friends.

The teenager said: "I want to feel normal and have a fresh start."

The exam boards said if Grace was too ill to take the tests she would not get any grades. Credit: PA

Fortunately, Northallerton High School have agreed to let Grace start sixth form in September, although she will still have to resit some GCSE papers.

Emma said: "We're not asking for something that hasn't been done before - we are asking for compassion.

"[Grace] wants to get results on results day and wants to progress academically, as well as socially.

"Redoing a year just isn't appropriate."

Exam board AQA have now given the family the option of getting a letter of recommendation from them, but there is no guarantee a Higher Education body would accept that in place of grades.

Emma believes lessons should be learned from the pandemic and that there should be an overhaul of the rigid exam system.

She said: "The system that should have been supporting her is failing her."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We fully recognise that GCSEs mark the culmination of a number of years of hard work, and to be diagnosed with cancer or any serious illness so close to exams will always be an incredibly challenging and upsetting experience.

“As in any year, some students might need reasonable adjustments to help them access exams. In these circumstances, for example, exam boards can permit students to take exams from home or hospital.

"The boards also run a special consideration process to award a grade where students are able to take at least one exam or formal assessment in a subject.

“Where none of these arrangements are appropriate in the student’s individual circumstances, it may be more appropriate for their exams to be deferred until the next assessment round.”

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