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Letter from the Editor. It’s Time to Get out of the Kitchen. A Level and GCSE Exams Summer 2021. Transformed not Cancelled.

Letter from the Editor. It’s Time to Get out of the Kitchen. A Level and GCSE Exams Summer 2021. Transformed not Cancelled.

by Jon WestleyDecember 3, 2020

Letter from the Editor. A Level and GCSE Exams Summer 2021. The Final Decision? Transformed not Cancelled.

Students and schools across the UAE (as worldwide) have been waiting for the UK government to respond realistically to the impact on students of the Covid 19 pandemic. Pretending that this is a normal year was never going to cut it.  It has even looked touch and go whether the government would cave in and follow the lead of the Welsh government to cancel traditional examinations altogether. It has also, however, given that we have been dealing with a government that has been pretty much all over the place except on the side of students to date, looked equally touch and go whether they would stubbornly stick to their guns and simply afford the arguably fairly meaningless gesture to students of a few extra weeks to revise.

Today, in as much as anything can be certain, we now believe a resolution has been reached – and one, for good or bad, that will stick.

Exams will not be cancelled. Students (except in exceptional circumstances) will still sit examinations. But they will come to those examination aware of the subjects that they will be examined on.

It’s about as good an outcome for students as you could expect from a British government hell bent on not allowing teachers to recommend the grades that students should be awarded, as was, eventually, the case this year. Last time the government was pulled kicking and screaming to cave to common sense and natural justice. This time we do not think they will move further. The approach will almost certainly be adopted by the international examination boards. The current uncertainty needs resolving …. yesterday. More on this here.

The approach they are taking moves very close to a position in which it is hard to argue. Would teacher-assessed grades, as last year, be a fairer way to decide student outcomes? Probably. But this approach, one that enables students to enter examinations knowing the areas of study that will be examined, comes close to being a fair one –  even if it still disproportionately disadvantages those who struggle intrinsically with examinations.  The devil will be in the details, but we do know already that details of exam topics will be released in January. Modern languages students will be able to take in vocabulary sheets to minimise the rote learning of vocabulary. BTEC qualifications will follow a similar course.

More importantly than how exams will be sat, is the British government’s commitment to ensure that grades will be aligned with the “generous” approach used in deciding this year’s results. They will not, as a result, be placed through a sieve that would see top grades artificially limited to “protect” the world from the horrors of, wait for it …. grade inflation.

Reading the outcries from right of centre traditionalists (think letter pages of the Daily Mail) you would think that exams are more important than the pandemic. Inevitably, a vocal and outraged minority have argued that today’s generation of students are snowflakes and that the UK government is pandering to Communism. You get the drift …. It’s like listening to Luddites clutching green scourers bemoaning (angrily) the birth of the dishwasher. But these Luddites are dangerous and ugly because they are angry and it is students that they have very clearly in their sights.

Will this much more sensible approach of the British government be adopted by the international exam boards? At the time of writing this has not been confirmed. But we think it is almost inevitable.

We think, (hope …), that more good will come out of all of this in the longer term. It is an interesting idea enabling students to know the questions that will be asked in advance. Who would it actually hurt to make this standard practice moving forward? Arguably this sort of approach will much better enable students to reflect their abilities – and lead to much better and more meaningful papers being handed in. There will still be a splay of those who produce better papers, and worse. It should mean, however, that no student goes into an exam finding themselves in the position of being a brilliant student who had simply revised the wrong thing. It removes luck – and arguably luck is not something that should be deciding the grades students are awarded anyway. It should also remove some of the pressure that equally distorts the results achieved by students each year. Does it really make sense to say that the most academically gifted children are those that cope with stress better. It has never made much sense.

But then again, as we have argued, examinations have never made much sense. They have always been a compromise. One day we can but hope we will move beyond needing them – and particularly at GCSE given that students invariably continue on to higher education. The justifications for examinations at 16 at all are getting weaker each year – unless of course you are one of those that believe that the tests of high performing, valuable human beings should be measured in their pain threshold and how much we can make them suffer.

We are not one of those.

Some day someone needs to have the courage to break this cycle of recurring prejudices that amounts to no more, in truth, than arguing that because we suffered exams our young people should too. The world has changed. Today answers to problems come in the lightning flash of seconds it takes to ask Google. It is creativity and what you can do with facts that matters. We and our old world have been left behind. The future belongs to the next generation and we need to get out of the kitchen.

(c) 2020. All rights reserved.

Notes from the Editor.

(1) The latest position (December 2020) can be found here

(2) Our view on examination can be found here.

(3) Thank you to Fiona Cottam, Principal, Hartland International School Dubai, for providing us with the TES link above.










About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of and UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at]

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