Pupils could be given advance notice of exam topics in 2022 under proposals

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Pupils taking GCSE and A-level exams in England next year could be given advance notice on the focus of exam papers to ensure they are not disadvantaged as a result of the pandemic.

The Department for Education (DfE) and regulator Ofqual have unveiled proposals for the 2022 summer exams – which includes giving schools and colleges some choice over the topics that students are assessed on.

But final details are not expected to be confirmed until the autumn term.

Announcing the consultation, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it is “right that next summer’s arrangements take into account the disruption young people have faced over the past 18 months”.

His comments come after teachers across England have finalised decisions on their pupils’ GCSE and A-level grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

A consultation on the proposed measures, which closes on August 1, sets out plans to provide exam aids, such as a formulae sheet in GCSE maths and an expanded equations sheet in GCSE physics.

Schools and colleges in England could also be given advance information on the focus of exam content in the majority of GCSE and A-level subjects and it is the Government’s intention for this to be issued in the spring term.

And in GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and geography, schools could be given some choice about the content their pupils will be assessed on.

But education unions have criticised the Government for only announcing the plans now, just days before the end of term, as they argue that the full details should be set out by September 1 at the latest.

Mr Williamson said: “This year we have rightly asked those who know students best, their teachers, to determine young people’s grades.

“While I know the wait for results can be an anxious one, students and their families can look forward to receiving results next month in the knowledge that they will reflect young people’s hard work and enable them to progress to their next stage.

“Exams will always be the fairest way to assess students, which is why they will take place next year, but it’s right that next summer’s arrangements take into account the disruption young people have faced over the past 18 months.”

The Government is also proposing changes to the arrangements for practicals in science GCSEs and assessment arrangements for art and design GCSE.

Simon Lebus, Ofqual’s interim chief regulator, said: “With things slowly returning to normal, we are launching a consultation so that the flexibility we are building into qualifications will future-proof them against any public health crisis.

“We look forward to feedback on our plans from students, parents and teachers to ensure we understand their needs, particularly those whose education has been more harshly affected by the pandemic.”

Ofqual and the DfE are running a consultation on arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications – which could allow colleges to streamline assessment.

Ofqual is also considering how best to grade qualifications in 2022 to be as fair as possible to students and it will announce a decision in the autumn.

The DfE has said it will continue to work with Ofqual on contingency plans in the event that it is not possible for exams to go ahead fairly and safely in 2022, but it is the government’s intention for exams to “return to normal” in 2023.

The consultation document says: “We will undertake further planning on contingencies and announce measures in the autumn term, once this summer’s results have been published and we have been able to reflect with stakeholders on lessons learned from this year’s experience.”

“Students, teachers and leaders deserve to know what this would look like as soon as possible, so that they can plan accordingly, rather than decisions being left to the last minute yet again.”

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “In reality, all of this should have been put to bed weeks, if not months, ago.

“We are only days away from the end of term.

“School leaders wanted decisions for adaptations and contingencies made before the summer break, with details before the start of term in September, not least because August will be a busy month supporting students with their results and working on reviews and appeals.”

He added: “Giving students what is effectively a broad revision list just a few weeks before exams begin will not ensure fairness for all students taking their exams next year.

“Such late information could serve to advantage those students who have not experienced so much disruption as opposed to supporting those students who have had most.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “With grim predictability, the Government is launching a short consultation in the dead of summer on an absolutely vital issue, this time on exams for next summer.

“As we warned last week, this is already far too late.

“September 1 is the latest date by which we should be receiving all the necessary information about qualifications in 2022.”

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