School exams: no marks for Gavin Williamson’s plan B

So Gavin Williamson’s plan B in the event of Covid-related disruption to next year’s GCSE exams is that schools will hold mock exams with exam-style invigilation, marking and grades awarded, using specimen papers from the exam boards (‘Plan B’ for rigorous mock exams to avoid rerun of A-level fiasco, 10 October). How does he think schools normally conduct mock exams – with disco lights and free shots?

Going by my experience of 40 years of teaching, every secondary school conducts mock exams in precisely the way that this “new” initiative proposes. It beggars belief that the education secretary’s grasp of his brief is so flimsy. Rather than delaying GCSE exams by three weeks, Williamson’s proposal will effectively bring them forward by six months, as the mock exams will assume a far greater weight for students than they ever have in the past.
Howard Falshaw
Crofton, West Yorkshire

The plans for next summer’s school exams are a belated and inadequate response. The government should have planned a radical overhaul of the system well before the start of the autumn term. The subject specifications should have been modularised into topics. Exams could then be organised into sections based on each topic. Students in schools where lockdowns occurred could then be judged on the number of topics they could be expected to complete in the time they spent in school.

Changing the examining system to multiple choice in subjects where this is possible would allow the time spent in marking to be truncated. This would allow the exam period to be pushed further back, allowing an extension of teaching time.
Eric Gilhooley
Tantobie, County Durham

Much as I miss my former work as a headteacher, I give daily thanks that I’m no longer responsible for preparing students for exams under these shambolic conditions. Gavin Williamson’s announcement will simply add to the sense of drift and lack of grip that has characterised his handling of the matter.

Students and teachers need a clear strategic plan that outlines the exact course of action the government will take for exams in every possible Covid-related circumstance that the country might face – from schools coping with sporadic interruptions to their teaching, to a full national lockdown involving the closure of schools. Such a plan must necessarily involve the consideration of a complete abandonment of GCSE exams at 16 and, for 16- and 18-year-olds, the use of mock exams and teacher assessment in 2021 – much as in 2020 but with far more lead time for schools to prepare.

Such a plan should be the final outcome of a robust conversation with headteachers’ professional representatives, and after Ofsted inspectors have conducted a survey of schools’ ability to cope, including the ability of students to access online teaching, the forced absence of staff and students told to isolate, the availability of supply teachers and the ability of schools to afford them from their depleted budgets.
Chris Dunne

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