Contingency plans confirmed for this year’s GCSE/AS/A level exams – Friday 12 November 2021

This week I report on contingency plans for this year’s GCSEs, AS and A levels examinations series, the downgrading of ‘outstanding’ schools in the first round of published inspection reports and the appointment of a steering group to help push through the Government’s delayed SEND review.

Contingency plans confirmed for GCSEs, AS and A levels
Yesterday the DfE and Ofqual confirmed contingency plans to support students if exams in England can’t go ahead safely or fairly next year due to the pandemic.  Students would receive Teacher Assessed Grades based on a range of their work, similar to this summer.

Guidance has been published for teachers on how they should collect evidence of students’ work during this academic year. Exams are planned with adaptations next summer these include a choice of topics in some GCSE exams and advance information on the focus of other exams to help students’ revision.  Exam boards are also publishing formulae and equation sheets to help students in GCSE maths and some GCSE science exams, giving students time to familiarise themselves with them before they sit their exams.  Advance information for next summer’s exams will be given in early February to help students focus their revision over the final months. The timing will be kept under review, subject to the course of the pandemic.

‘Outstanding’ schools not inspected for 15 years downgraded in first Ofsted reports
Almost three in four schools previously exempt from Ofsted inspections have been stripped of their ‘outstanding’ status in the first round of published reports.  Twenty three reports were published yesterday and of those 19 were of schools that had received a Section 5 inspection and four the shorter Section 8 inspections. Seventeen of the schools lost their ‘outstanding’ status, 12 dropped to ‘good’ and five were rated ‘requires improvement’.  Of the 17 downgraded schools, all but one was a primary and all but one were standalone schools (LA maintained or voluntary-aided). 

All ‘outstanding’ schools last visited before 2015 will get a full inspection, while those awarded the top grade since then will face short inspections.  Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, suggested earlier this week the number of top-rated schools would halve after visits under the new framework. She said one in 10 schools achieving the top grade “might be a more realistic starting point for the system”. Prior to yesterday’s reports, one in five English schools (4,133) were ‘outstanding’.

All five schools downgraded two grades were ‘requires improvement’ in the ‘quality of education’ section. This is a limiting judgment, meaning schools cannot then gain a higher judgment for overall effectiveness.

SEND review ‘steering group’ appointed to push through reforms
The Government has named 23 members of a steering group set up to help push through its delayed SEND review that was first promised in September 2019. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said last week that he was hoping to have it out “in the first quarter of next year” so it can “dovetail” with a planned schools white paper.

In an open letter to parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities, the Children’s Minister, Will Quince pointed to several issues that needed addressing for example offering a way forward to reducing local variation, improving early intervention, making clearer the support and services everyone should be able to expect and having funding and accountability systems in place which supported this.  Quince added that any proposed changes should be supported and understood across health and care services, as well as education providers.