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Summer Exams Cancelled as UK Schools Close. Impact will be Global

Summer Exams Cancelled as UK Schools Close. Impact will be Global

by David WestleyJanuary 5, 2021

The UK has entered its third national lockdown. Schools have been closed, and summer exams cancelled.

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said the measure, which will last into mid-February, includes a return to remote learning for primary schools, secondary schools and colleges. Exams he said need to be reconsidered.

“It is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal. The education secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements,” Mr Johnson said.

On Tuesday Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove confirmed this year’s GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled. He said UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would make a statement about alternative assessments tomorrow (Wednesday, 6th Jan).

A change or cancellation of the tests, sat at ages 16 and 18 respectively, has clear repercussions across the globe, because British-curriculum schools follow the UK line. According to Mark Leppard, MBE, British School Al Khubairat:

“The decision by the UK Government to question the running of GCSE and A Level exams, although extremely frustrating and disappointing, I believe is absolutely correct. With a variety of lockdown situations as well as different approaches to distance learning across the globe, it would have been virtually impossible to create a level playing field. The concern now is how examination boards create a process that will avoid the disastrous situation schools and more importantly students found themselves in last summer when there were last minute changes to an agreed system that schools and their staff spent hundreds of hours on.

“A further concern is the potential mixed economy with iGCSE exams. Some countries will have students accessing the normal school day, whilst other countries will have students unable to access school. How this is leveled out to create parity will be a genuine minefield. 

“I do hope that the exam boards, for international and domestic GCSE and A Levels do put the students front and centre ensuring they are awarded the grades fitting of their effort, ability and potential as well as avoiding stressful situations in a world that is hugely challenged at this time.”

“The lack of access for all students in different socio-economic groups in the UK who cannot attend school does indeed make it untenable to proceed as normal, Fiona Cottam, principal of Hartland International School, told “However, there needs to be an appropriate think-tank group, involving not just Ofqual, but school leaders to ensure that correct measures are put in place to assess students in whatever format is finally decided. Schools cannot be put in the same position that they were last year. Let’s just hope that the early January decision will give time for proper consultation and thought so as to protect and support not just students, but teachers and school leaders who bore the brunt of the fiasco of last year.


“I also hope that the IGCSE groups will also take a call on this sooner rather than later.”

Mark Ford, Principal at the English College, told that whilst we now know that exams will not go ahead “as normal”, “we can only speculate as to what this will look like in summer.

“We will continue to make sure that our students are attending all lessons, completing all of their work to the best of their ability and engaging in a thorough programme of revision in preparation, ready to deal with any eventuality. Mock examinations are now more important than ever before and will be a crucial piece of data if we are to once again rank our candidates, fairly, should this be a requirement this summer.”

In a message to parents, Matthew Tompkins, Principal / CEO of GEMS FirstPoint said: “The message and focus is clear, students need to be attending school, working hard and showing their best ability. There will be further updates from Exam Boards in due time and we will strive to maintain complete transparency with you, so that we can all be as informed and as prepared as possible during these times. We can assure you that the school is working incredibly hard to protect its students and do what is fair and what is right.”

According to Mr Tompkins, paramount to ensuring success for both GCSEs and A’ Levels would be:

  • Exams, re-sits go ahead as planned. Any exams taken now must be well planned for and students must take very seriously. This is a very good opportunity to “bank” early results and evidence levels of attainment, so these will continue as scheduled.

  • Students must be engaging in/with lessons, work, non-exam assessments (coursework) and assessments/mock exams. Students must be submitting regular work and evidence for all subjects. If students are not attending daily, missing work or not engaging, it compromises the process and weakens student’s evidence.

  • Additional mock exams are likely to be planned in to secure additional evidence of student current performance. Ensure students have a robust evidence base and are given the opportunity to demonstrate their hard work and high performance. This will involve future assessments and potential mock exams. These must be taken as seriously as possible please and be well-prepared for.

  • Student attendance and work evidence is crucial. Any gaps in work, modules, assessments or units can be critical.

A GEMS Education statement to media said the group “will do everything possible to work with all external agencies to ensure our students achieve success, being supported in the best possible way by their teachers and families.

“If centre assessed grades are used we develop a portfolio of evidence for each student encompassing prior examination attainment, numerous mock examination results, teacher assessed work, oral/verbal examinations and project work that is all moderated both internally and externally across GEMS Education. We are prepared for all eventualities.”

Speaking to our sister publication, Michael Lambert, Principal of Dubai College, said any of the options for replacing exams represented a real cause for concern.

“The prospect of dozens of teachers in each of 4000+ schools devising grades for thousands of students under enormous pressure has the potential to create an even bigger mess than last summer… Ask teachers to submit grades this year in light of last year’s debacle and you will witness the single biggest live example of game theory ever seen in education. 

Every school across the world will submit the highest grades possible for every one of their students, simultaneously transferring to Ofqual the burden to prove that students would not have received these grades, something which is unfalsifiable.” More here

While school leaders stated their concerns, many also noted 2021 was in some ways an improvement on 2020. “Given last year’s situation, we prepared in advance for this,” Lizzie Robinson from Jebel Ali School told

For all schools, wellbeing is likely to become a key concern. Says Mr Ford:

“Arguably, students need more resilience, emotional intelligence and flexibility than they ever have had before.”

Ms Robinson agreed:

“First and foremost is looking after the well-being of our students for whom this presents a significant change. However, the strong relationships our students have with their teachers alongside the rigorous systems of assessment we have in place will support our students fully. would add that similar concern probably needs to be given to teachers, regulators, and even politicians responsible for what is likely to be an insoluble set of issues as we head towards summer.

Note: Keep tabs on this live article. More will be added as new information is released.

About The Author
David Westley
David is the co-founder and GM of Which Media, the owner of and

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