Plans for replacing this year’s exams – Friday 15 January 2021

This week I report on proposed plans for replacing this year’s exams, two new free governor webinars, publication of a new framework to support schools in reviewing their remote education provision and the relaunch of the Free school meals voucher scheme.

Plans for replacing this year’s examinations
This week the DfE published a letter from the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to Ofqual outlining the process to agree proposed alternative arrangements for 2021 exams as follows:

  • Teacher assessments should be informed by a ‘breadth of evidence’ – provision for training and guidance will support teachers to reach their assessment of a student’s deserved grade. However, this need for evidence must be balanced against minimising additional burdens for teachers and schools.
  • Grades to be issued “as late as possible” – a teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education.
  • Ofqual to explore setting external exams – the setting of tasks or short papers would enable teachers to draw on this resource to support their assessments of students.
  • No algorithm to standardise grades – schools and colleges are to undertake quality assurance of their teachers’ assessments and “provide reassurance to the exam boards”.
  • Any grade changes should ‘be the exception’ – the process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion.
  • There will be an appeals route – any student who doesn’t believe their grade reflects the standard of their work can appeal, details of which should be “explored fully” in the consultation.
  • International Baccalaureate and other general qualifications – a similar approach to GCSEs and A-levels should be taken.
  • Alternative arrangements for BTECs and other vocational qualifications – external exams scheduled to take place in the next few months for vocational and technical qualifications that enable a student to demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment should “continue to proceed with protective measures put in place to ensure they are conducted in line with PHE measures”. However, for all other VTQs with written exams, including BTECs and other qualifications in league tables, it is “no longer viable for these exams to go ahead. Views on alternative arrangements for these qualifications should be sought in the consultation.

Free governor webinars
Staff mental health and wellbeing – as schools are confronted with more challenging weeks ahead, Governors for Schools are launching term 2 of their Wellbeing Governors campaign focusing on school staff mental health and wellbeing. Their free webinar on how and why school governors should support staff mental health and wellbeing is taking place on Thursday 28th January from 12 to 1pm. To register use this link.

Understanding the role and impact of Careers Link Governors – the Careers and Enterprise Company is offering governors a free webinar on 3 February from 6-7.30pm. It will explore the key information a governor should be aware of, including the role of a careers leader, the importance of careers in the curriculum, as well as the how to maximise the careers link governor role. To register use this link.

Guidance on reviewing remote education provision
A framework to help schools and further education providers in England identify strengths and areas for improvement in their remote education provision was published this week. Whilst not statutory it can support schools to meet basic requirements using the resources and tools they currently have and take their remote education provision further, with links to useful resources.

Relaunch of Free school meals voucher scheme
The Government’s national free school meals voucher scheme will relaunch next Monday and be run by original supplier Edenred, with schools now given the freedom to provide food in whatever way they see fit.

Guidance issued last week told schools to work with caterers under a “food parcel first approach” to replace free school meals for children at home. Only where this was not possible could schools then use vouchers instead. This week’s new guidance states schools “have the freedom to decide on the best approach for their pupils and have a range of options which include lunch parcels, local vouchers or the…national voucher scheme”.