Background: Students demand international GCSE and A Level examinations are cancelled as Cambridge International Examination refuses to change course.
[Editor’s Note: Since writing this feature we have been contacted by Cambridge International Examinations and they have confirmed, as of 10 March 2021, that they are not changing their position and will continue to enforce examinations being sat internationally as the norm.]
International students worldwide are in uproar following the refusal of Cambridge International Examinations to cancel this year’s Summer IGCSE and A’ Level examinations. Its decision has set it on a collision course with the British government and the two remaining international examination boards, OxfordAQA and Pearson Edexcel, which have cancelled this year’s Summer examinations in favour of results being awarded on the basis of teacher assessed grades.
The British government and OFQAL had openly stated they wanted to avoid the risk that would follow international examination boards choosing to go ahead with examinations as it would result in a two tier system in which thousands of students faced being unfairly and unequally treated next to their peers. Cambridge International Examinations has ignored this arguing that:
“We know exams are the fairest and most accurate way of assessing students’ performance.”
Cambridge International Examinations 26 February 2021.
Petition: Cambridge International Examinations is profit-motivated
Following a launch of a petition on Change.org, today more than 32,000 signatories disagree, claiming that: the decision of Cambridge International Examinations is purely “profit motivated” rather than being guided by any genuine interest in the welfare of students, schools or their families.
Cambridge International Examinations, which already charges more to enter examinations than either OxfordAQA or Pearson EdExcel, bills, through schools, every UAE student fees for each subject entered, these ranging from around AED 350 to AED 700 dependent on the subject.
In distinction, both Oxford AQA and Pearson Edexcel have promised to look at at least partial refunds for every student and their families, following their decision to “do the right thing” and “trust teachers.”
“We’d like to reassure you that we will be passing on any net savings, where they exist, to you after the Summer assessments.”
Pearson Edexcel. Statement. 26 February 2021.
“We will review our fees for the May/June 2021 series when more detail is known about the Teacher Assessed Grades process and the costs of delivering it.”
There are no promises to refund fees as it may well be that delivering non-exam based results prove more expensive to deliver – but both OxfordAQA and Pearson Edexcel are cognisant of the welfare of students and families and want parents and students to understand that they are acting ethically and putting student welfare first in all their decision-making.
Cambridge Assessment International Education generates its revenue as “the world’s largest provider of international education programmes and qualifications for 5 to 19 year olds” – with around 1 million students and more than 10,000 schools studying for their qualifications in more than 160 countries. The organisation is a division of Cambridge assessment which is not-for-profit – but both organisations carry significant fixed costs.
The petition can be signed by clicking here.
Beyond Cambridge International Examinations being purely driven by revenue, the petition argues that:
- “Following the UK cancellation of A levels in 2021, international students are at an unfair disadvantage as their UK peers have [had] their A Levels and IGCSE [examinations cancelled.]
- “There may be a high risk of inflated grades [where} Teacher Assessed Grades [are used], while [..] international students are left to sit for exams. This will leave us an a disadvantage as we are also competing to enter universities also in the UK.
- “UK students will have it easy as they sit back and relax with their biased teachers grades.
- “CIE said that, although they won’t give us an advance notice of topics or reduce our syllabus content , they will make sure grading is aligned with the UK grading system but now, their exams are totally cancelled. This means it can no longer be possible for this to work.”
- “In addition to the inequality in grades, CIE is not taking into consideration the state of students’ mental health, difficulty of access to online resources, attention disorders, and overall motivation to fully grasp the material taught in this 2 year period. While having been in quarantine and undergoing online learning since Feb/March 2020, many students are faced with the challenge of fully understanding the curriculum whether due to technical difficulties, an incredible decline in the teaching quality, or the mental state of students.”
- “Online learning has imposed a large variety of issues in a student’s daily life, and it would be extremely unfair for CIE to not provide the same treatment to UK students and international students by grading us the same way.”
- “We understand that COVID-19 cases vary from country to country, but we must address other issues regarding the fairness and comparability of this ‘standardised’ testing, student’s mental health, education inequality, and the risk of being exposed to the virus.”
The petition continues:
“We ask for CIE to not act upon discrimination and provide the same treatment to their UK and international students by using the same teacher assessments grades for IGCSE and international A Levels for the May/June 2021 session as a “student friendly board”.
Many international students will attempt to enter UK universities, and now have an uphill battle against students who, due to not having to sit exams, will in most cases be awarded grades they would not necessarily get if they were to sit exams. As such it puts International students at a competitive disadvantage.”
Petition to Cancel International A Level & IGCSE Exams 2021. Change.org. February 2021.
(Editors note: the quotes above have been changed to reflect the fact that Pearson Edexcel have now cancelled examinations in favour of teachers assessed grades.]
Cambridge International argues:
“In setting exam standards, we take very seriously our responsibility to make sure students are assessed fairly and can progress with their education. Exams offer consistent, reliable and fair measurement of attainment, and we have highly effective processes for managing standards in the grades from exams. We will manage standards in 2021 with the aim of ensuring that grades are comparable whichever route a student takes.”
Cambridge International Examinations. February 2021.
However, without the support of the other Examinations Boards, or OFQUAL, or the UK Government for this outlier approach, Cambridge International will need to delay its results until after the other boards have reported their results so that it can “””adjust””” results upwards or downwards to even attempt consistency. As one school told us: “if it wasn’t so damaging to students, it would be laughable.”
OxfordAQA and Pearson EdExcel – all Summer examinations cancelled
OxfordAQA has cancelled international GCSE and A-level exams.
They will be replaced with Teacher Assessed Grades.
Unlike Cambridge International, who also provide international A Level And GCSE examinations, they argue:
“[Cancelling examinations this year] is the fairest thing we can do.”
OxfordAQA Examinations. 28 January 2021.
The full statement argues:
“Since the announcement about exams in England being cancelled, we’ve been listening carefully to the views of teachers, parents and students around the world.
Many schools have told us that a consistent approach would mean that no student in any school or country would be disadvantaged, and assessing all students in the same way is the only way to be confident grades are comparable and fair.”
“Everyone, including us, would have preferred a return to a normal exam series in the summer.
But it has become clear that this just won’t be possible, and the fairest thing we can do is ensure a level playing field for all students, and follow the same approach to assessment as in England. We know how crucial Fair Assessment is in preparing students for their futures and enabling them to progress to the next step.”
Sadie Visick. Managing Director. OxfordAQA.
Pearson Edexcel followed:
“Today we have confirmed three important updates:
- We will use a robust approach based on teacher assessment for International GCSE and International AS/A Level assessment in May/June 2021 and exams will not go ahead as planned
- We will offer an additional exam series for International GCSE later this year
- The International AS/A Level October exam series will go ahead as planned.”
Pearson Education. February 2021.
Unlike the chaos caused last year by mooted algorithms, schools, this Summer, will be free to award grades entirely on the basis of their knowledge of their own students – an approach SchoolsCompared.com has always argued is the only rational and fair approach to the awarding of results during the pandemic. The Examination Boards have committed to only minimal cross-examination for consistency – and given that teachers invariably know their students best, in practice we see it as unlikely that teacher-assessed grades will be questioned.
Our View: A Levels and GCSE Examinations Cancelled. This Mess Hurts Schools and Students across the UAE.
The move leaves Cambridge International globally isolated in insisting that International A Level and GCSE Examinations proceed. Cambridge International stubbornly continues to insist that schools and teachers across international schools want the examinations to proceed, a claim disputed by many schools.
Whatever else, and quite extraordinarily, a non governmental, non statutory regulatory, private sector body is single-handedly creating a two tier system worldwide that will impact on every student, international or otherwise, sitting for examinations this year.
Cambridge International are strident in steadfastly refusing to change course:
“On 4 January 2021, the UK Prime Minister announced new national restrictions for England, including the closure of schools and cancellation of most exams for June 2021.
As an international organisation based in the UK, we want to update our global community of schools on our position on the 2021 exam series following this announcement. A number of schools have asked if there will be any change in our policy.
We work with schools in 160 countries and most of our schools are telling us they want to run exams in June 2021 and expect to be able to do so, in line with guidance from their national and regional authorities”.
Cambridge International. January 2021
Cambridge International’s views are completely at odds with those of OxfordAQA and, now, Pearson:
“Many schools have told us that having a consistent approach means that no student in any school or country will be disadvantaged, and that assessing all students in the same way is the only way to be confident grades are comparable and fair.
As one of our schools told us, “There needs to be one system and way of assessing that is applied for all students across the whole world. This is a global pandemic and whilst the situation has differed from country to country and the adaptation to teaching has also varied greatly, these students have all faced huge changes and disruptions, not only in their experience of school and learning, but also in their home environment, and the mental impact that has had on them needs to also be recognised and acknowledged.”
It is students in the UAE, and worldwide, not Cambridge International Examinations, that will pay the price for results that risk being at the least inconsistent and, at worse, open to significant misunderstanding.
As we said in our earlier article, many UAE schools are extremely unhappy that Cambridge International is laying the justification for their decision squarely as a response to the wishes of schools – and in the process making it appear that UAE schools are working against the perceived interests and wishes of their students and parents.
OFQUAL, a statutory government body, has been clear that allowing international examinations to proceed would in their view result in unfairness, inconsistency and confusion.
An exceptionally astute analysis of the impacts, issues and repercussions that follow from the issues surrounding examinations during Covid, written by Michael Lambert, Headmaster of Dubai College, can be found here.
GEMS Education commented:
“We are aware of today’s decision by OxfordAQA to cancel international GCSE and A-level exams, and our schools will be offering guidance and assistance to all students who are affected by this decision.
In addition, we continue to be in close, regular contact with all relevant exam boards to ensure our students and their parents are well informed and fully supported as this situation develops.”
SchoolsCompared does not believe that this two tier system, created entirely by Cambridge International Examinations, is fair, rational or prudent. Worse, it risks damaging student opportunity, the perceived integrity of British education and the vital relationships and trust between schools, parents, universities and governments worldwide that underpin this.
It is time for Cambridge International Examinations to change course, and urgently.
© SchoolsCompared.com. 2021. All rights reserved.
Notes to parents, students and schools:
The complete statement by OxfordAQA, including information on the assistance that they are providing, can be found here.
The position of Cambridge International can be found here.
Information on the U-turn by Pearson can be found here.
More reporting on this can be found in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) here.