Pupils taking GCSEs, A-levels, and vocational exams in England next year are likely to be given advance notice of the focus of some examinations, according to plans unveiled by the government.
They will also be allowed support materials, and there will be adjustments to science practicals and art and design assessments.
The proposals were announced by the Department for Education as it launched a consultation into how exams should be changed to take into account the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on pupils’ learning.
Full details will not be confirmed until early in the Autumn term, and educators have criticised the delay, advising that they should have already had clarification on potential changes.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that exams will take place next year because they are the fairest way to assess students – for the past two years, grades have been based on teaching assessments.
However, under proposals unveiled on Monday 12 July, schools may be given some choice about the content on which students will be assessed in GCSE English Literature, History, Ancient History, and Geography.
Exam aims could be available, such as a formulae sheet in GCSE Maths, and an expanded equations sheet in GCSE Physics.
The aim of the proposals is to ensure fairness after the disruption caused by Covid-19, by which pupils have missed different amounts of lesson time, and have been unable to complete the whole curriculum because of lockdowns and self-isolation.
Announcing the consultation, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Exams will always be the fairest way to assess students, which is why they will take place next year, but it’s right that next summer’s arrangements take into account the disruption young people have faced over the past 18 months.”
Simon Lebus, Ofqual’s interim chief regulator, said: “With things slowly returning to normal, we are launching a consultation so that the flexibility we are building into qualifications will future-proof them against any public health crisis.”
The regulator said he wanted feedback from students, parents, and teachers “to ensure we understand their needs, particularly those whose education has been more harshly affected by the pandemic”.
In reality, all of this should have been put to bed weeks, if not months ago – we are only days away from the end of term.
Ofqual is also looking at how to grade qualifications in 2022 in a way that is fair compared with other years and it will announce a decision in the autumn.
The government has faced criticism for the delay in proposing changes in the consultation.
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “In reality, all of this should have been put to bed weeks, if not months ago – we are only days away from the end of term.
“School leaders wanted decisions for adaptations and contingencies made before the summer break, with details before the start of term in September, not least because August will be a busy month supporting students with their results, and working on reviews and appeals.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, warned: “With grim predictability, the government is launching a short consultation in the dead of summer on an absolutely vital issue – this time, on exams for next summer. This is already far too late.”
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “We are very concerned that the consultation does not include proposals for a contingency plan in the event that exams cannot go ahead in 2022.
“The last thing we want to see is exams cancelled again – but given what has happened this year and last year, it is simply a matter of common sense and prudence to map out a contingency plan at this stage.”
The consultation will end on 1 August. The government said it is working on a simple contingency plan if it is not possible for exams to go ahead for a third year.