UK Schools Close, GCSE, A Level Exams Cancelled

As the UK enters a second national lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that GCSE and A Level exams will be cancelled for summer 2021.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19

The UK has entered a second national lockdown, which will see all primary and secondary schools close until "at least" mid-February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced. 

The new, more severe measures come as the number of new cases of coronavirus in the UK in the past 24 hours reached 58,784, an increase of 50 per cent on the seven-day average.  As a result of the school closures, GCSE and A Level examinations are now cancelled for summer 2021.

Last year's UK national lockdown saw schools close and British curriculum exams cancelled across the globe.  After much debate and a last minute government u-turn students were eventually awarded their teacher predicted grades.  Plans and guidance to replace this year's examinations are expected within the week. 

It is likely that vocational examinations, such as BTECS, will still go ahead.

Dr. Jon Cox, Principal of the Royal Grammar School, Guildford in the UK, told

"As you can imagine, I am deeply disappointed that the summer exams have been cancelled particularly at such an early stage in the year.  After the significant problems associated with the awarding of last summer’s  A Level and GCSE grades, I am fearful that the same confusion and distrust will result this summer.  I do not believe that last year’s public exam results were a fair and equitable reflection of pupil achievement throughout the country and I have grave concerns that the same may be true come August.

 It is particularly upsetting for our students.  We were able to teach remotely during the first lockdown in such a way that we had no evidence that the boys had suffered any noticeable drop in academic standards and I have no doubt that the same will be true during this current lockdown.  To have denied our students the opportunity to show what they are capable of in public exams has caused great disappointment.  The decision, however, has been made and we will endeavour to do the very best we can for RGS pupils to ensure that they achieve the grades they deserve."

Simon O’Connor, Director at Deira International School in the UAE said the decision was "unsettling for students, teachers and parents alike".

There is now an urgency to find out what will replace exams and how students' attainment will be established.
It is essential that the UK government provide this information sooner rather than repeat the fiasco of U turns which took place last year. However, at least we are discussing this in January rather than in May like 2020."

At GEMS FirstPoint School in the UAE, Principal-CEO Matthew Tompkins wrote to parents to reassure them that the experiences of last year had enabled the school to be ready and prepared for exam cancellations this summer.  He wrote,

"FPS [FirstPoint School] underwent rigorous external moderation during the Centre Assessment Grade process with exam boards. These meetings were very positive and FPS was hailed and shared as an example for all schools to follow. This means our approaches and systems work".

Mr Tompkins went on to say that additional mock examinations are likely to be scheduled in order to ensure that students have a "robust evidence base" for grade assessment.

At Nord Anglia International School Dubai, Principal Matthew Farthing was keen to stress that, despite the news stories, all learning would continue as normal and that his students would not be "disadvantaged" by any changes to the upcoming exams.  Mr Farthing told,

"While we wait for further guidance from each specific examination board we would like to congratulate all of our students for their efforts made in their recent mock exams and assure all parents and students that we shall continue to teach and revise for each subject as planned.
Our education team at Nord Anglia are aware of the situation and are confident that at NAS Dubai we have all of the evidence in place to show how well we assess our students and track their progress over the course of their programmes of study and that we are well placed to ensure that they will not be disadvantaged by the circumstances that prevail in the UK today".

Kelvin Hornsby, Principal-CEO of Cambridge International School, Abu Dhabi will be meeting with exam bodies "this week and next" to ensure the school's students are well prepared and well supported. 

"We are already working closely with the Examination Awarding Bodies and have meetings scheduled this week and next. There may well be different approaches taken but we will be patient, collaborate, and support.  If centre assessed grades are to be used, we have significant experience in all of our schools of developing a portfolio of evidence for each student that is moderated both internally and externally across GEMS Education and by the Examination Awarding Bodies.
We are prepared for all eventualities and will deliver success, even in these uncertain times".   Kelvin Hornsby, Principal-CEO Cambridge International School

One message that the team have heard from every school we spoke to for this story was this: it is vital that students continue to work hard to ensure the best possible grades.  This sentinment was echoed by Gemma Thornley, Secondary Principal at GEMS Wellington Academy, Al Khail.   Ms Thornly had this to say,

"Our priority has and will always be to keep everyone safe and healthy, whilst remaining focused on supporting our students to achieve the qualifications they need to progress to the next stage of their education. This does not change under these circumstances.
We are entirely committed to ensuring that every student in our care achieves grades that they deserve and have earned. It is crucial that students approach school with the same determination and work ethic that they would under normal conditions. The important message in all of this is that students will not be disadvantaged in all of this and we will work closely with the exam boards and all our teachers to ensure this".

Elsewhere, Dover Court International School in Singapore has been preparing for the cancellation of the 2021 exams since the summer of 2020. Craig Bull, Dover Court's head of secondary said:

"We understand and appreciate that this has been a concern for our students and parents as well as our team here and so we wanted to prepare our students for this from the outset, allowing them to take some control of the situation.
"Our Year 11 students have each been developing a portfolio of evidence which they are responsible for managing, supported by our staff. This folder requires their best work as evidence against each subject’s assessment criteria. Students are also undergoing a full mock examination programme alongside continuous teacher assessment and feedback. Furthermore, we have signed more teachers up than ever before to be Coursework Assessors and Examination markers for our respective examining bodies which ensures our teachers are up to date with the latest information and assessment criteria."

Meanwhile, Mike Lambert, Headmaster of one of the United Arab Emirate's most successful schools, Dubai College, has laid out the stark choices that lie ahead as exams are cancelled.  Writing exclusively for, Mr Lambert outlines the possible alternatives to examinations and significant challenges that come with any option.  

We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

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