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IB Exams Cancelled in Last Minute Block by Regulators to “Ensure that No Child is Left Behind in the UAE.” *** UPDATED ***

IB Exams Cancelled in Last Minute Block by Regulators to “Ensure that No Child is Left Behind in the UAE.” *** UPDATED ***

by Jon WestleyMay 4, 2021

Whilst many saw it as inevitable, today schools across the UAE are finally advising more than 18,000 students and families at their schools that the IB examinations will not proceed in May 2021.

The decision recognises that students, often in different ways across schools, have not been able to study or learn on a fair playing field – and follows an outcry, by schools, parents and students, against holding what are seen as fundamentally flawed, unsafe and unfair examinations.

The IB had sought to give schools the so-called “choice” of whether to proceed with either examinations or, the perceived much fairer alternative, Teacher/Centre Assessed Grades. The MOE, KHDA and ADEK school regulators, with just two weeks to go before final IB examinations, decided the obvious inequalities of student outcomes at risk across UAE schools with this so called “dual-route” approach, was simply neither sustainable, logical or fair. Many students reported to us that their schools, far from having a real choice, had “felt pressurised” by the IB to impose examinations against the wishes of teachers, families and students.

The result of the decision today by the UAE’s regulators, means that IB grades, across IB courses, the IB Diploma and the IB Career-related Programme, will now be decided by teachers – self evidently those that know their own students best.

This decision by regulators, to cancel IB examinations, follows exactly the same decision made by regulators to block Cambridge International Examinations from imposing exams on students at British schools sitting IGCSE and A’ Levels – in this case despite all other UK Examination Boards cancelling exams in favour of Teacher-assessed grades. More on this story can be found here.

It also follows the fiasco last year of the IB’s attempt to impose an algorithm to decide results – and the identical, equally damaging decision to follow this route by UK exam boards.

SchoolsCompared has been a vocal campaigner against imposing examinations, or algorithms, on students in any curriculum in the two years in which Covid has now removed any possible claim of a level playing field for students within the UAE, or globally. We have found very little credible evidence, and no direct source, for claims that students are clamouring for examinations. In fact, the opposite is true, with students en masse contacting both and the regulators asking for the examinations to be cancelled:

“What about the International Baccalaureate students who are taking their exams in the UAE?


How is that fair to the UAE IB students when the government cancelled every single (one of the other international) exams here?

We are the only ones who are suffering right now and we are urging the Ministry to take action regarding this situation as this is injustice – and it is not safe to conduct these IB exams.”

Wanda. Letter to the Editor. 

“Following the exam route in UAE schools ignores all the negative factors that have disadvantaged UAE students over the last year. Most classes in the UAE have been online for the majority of the past year and, as a result, the (relatively) poorer nature of online learning – and (inevitably) lower productivity from just”staring at a screen all day” has created a learning gap.

IB teachers too have been pressurised to complete the IB courses in a much shorter period of time – adding a new layer of anxiety and stress for most stu7dents who have had to struggle with catching up from the rushed content.

Many UAE students, whether struggling with attention disorders, proper access to online resources, mental health issues or motivation, have neither been able to learn properly, or adequately understand, the information given to us over what should have been a properly delivered two year curriculum.”

“Cancel IB May 2021 Exams in the UAE.” Petition. Reddit.  

The reason for exam boards not cancelling exams more quickly is hard to fathom. In most cases the explanation is provided by worries about grade inflation which some see as a worse evil than children being awarded unsafe grades and their, as a result, receiving grades that fall short of those required to proceed to university study or preferred routes into industry. “If children get the wrong grades and wrecked lives that is a price worth paying if grade inflation is avoided” captures the, in our view spurious and callous, argument most clearly. Others have claimed that one exam board, in the British system, has been motivated more by protecting the revenue they receive from student exam entries than “doing the right thing.”

The latest IB information can be found here. The organisation’s latest update reads:

“Until the receipt by schools of letters from regulators confirming the decision to cancel IB exams, many students and schools were proceeding on the basis of the regulator’s previous confirmation that international examinations in the UAE were cancelled. Some, however, remained confused whether this only applied to British schools. Today this doubt has been removed.

The latest IB information can be found here. Its March update reads:

The IB continues to work with schools and government regulators to determine the best assessment route for each region during the May 2021 session.

Recently, the IB has conducted a series of school webinars in English, Spanish, and French outlining the May 2021 assessment process. To learn more, please contact [email protected].

We understand that schools, teachers and students around the world continue to experience tremendous challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic – these challenges are at the forefront of our minds as we prepare for this summer’s exams. Grade boundaries have been set for each route, building in generosity that reflects this disruption while taking into consideration how grades are likely to be assigned by other large-scale qualifications.

For those schools who are unable to administer exams, the IB has provided guidelines for teachers to award predicted grades. The IB also offers an exceptions process that allows schools to award higher marks by providing evidence that supports their request.”

International Baccalaureate. March Update.

A public statement from the regulators is expected shortly, this to follow the direct notification to schools themselves initially. We will update this article as we receive it.

In the interim, the latest information can be found here:

KHDA, here.

ADEK, here.

MOE, here.

Since publication, GEMS Education has responded:

“We will explain clearly the processes of how grades will be awarded to our students and parents, and reassure them that the IBO is looking at parity throughout the world, whether students are taking exams or pursuing the non-exam route.

GEMS IB Heads have already met with students, staff and parents.

GEMS IB Heads are a close-knit group and, together with other IB Heads in Dubai, have approached this latest decision from a practical perspective.

Just as last year, when IB examinations were cancelled, many students will have mixed feelings.

The chance to ‘show what you know’ in an examination situation after two years’ work, has gone.

Some might be relieved, particularly as many IB students across the world are not taking exams.

An excellent ‘pre-university and life skills’ course has been put in place to keep students engaged in their preparations for life beyond GEMS. GEMS IB Heads and IB Coordinators are sharing resources and ideas, which include seminars, lectures, guest speakers, mentoring and service opportunities and live streams of excellent and relevant pre-university presentations from one GEMS school to another.

These students do not want to leave school yet, but are ready to contribute by engaging in the above courses and also ‘giving back’ in such a responsible way that reflects positively on their experience over the last few years.

As for teachers, their predicted grades and assessments across the last two years now have added significance and impact.”

Simon Herbert. Head of School. Chief Executive Officer. GEMS International School Al Khail. 

Today (15 April 2021) we were contacted by the International Baccalaureate directly, which asked us to issue the following statement, which we print in full:

“The IB has informed schools of our decision not to hold examinations in the UAE due to the rising cases of COVID-19 and following ongoing conversations with our schools, associations and education boards.

We intend that the results of students in the UAE should be awarded using coursework marks and predicted grades for the May 2021 session, as described in the awarding model outlined in February.

 For more details on the May 2021 session, students, parents and teachers are encouraged to talk to their school’s IB coordinator.”

International Baccalaureate. Letter to the Editor. 15 April 2021.

The result of today’s decision will be greeted by the vast majority of students and teachers with sighs of relief. It will however further add to the pressures on UAE IB schools who must now work through the consequences, with time now in very short supply, of a decision that surely, especially given last year’s fiasco, should have been made by the IB in the first place. UAE IB students, families, schools and teachers have, bluntly, been put through a hell that was completely unnecessary and unjustifiable.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Then, as with our view of the decision by our regulators who stepped in to protect GCSE and A Level students in British schools, as now, with the regulator’s decision to protect UAE IB students, the choice by the MOE, KHDA and ADEK to take on the global giants in education by cancelling exams to protect our schools, parents and students from chaos and unfairness, deserves, in our view, nothing less than the most strongly worded praise.

© 2021. All rights reserved.

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

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