Yorkshire MP calls for ministers to postpone exams until Christmas rather than relying on teacher grades
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Mr Williamson told MPs that the Government will put its “trust in teachers, rather than algorithms” for the exam season in 2021, following a fiasco last year where thousands of A-level students initially had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm, because this was scrapped.
Mr Williamson said that while exams were the “fairest way” of assessing what a student knows, the impact of the pandemic meant it was not possible to hold exams in the summer.
But Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, said later during a debate on lockdown restrictions that he was not sure awarding predicted grades again would be the correct response.
He said: “A top grade can be given to a child for what it has been taught, but there will be a lot of stuff that they haven’t been taught, and I fear that they will suffer the consequences of that later on by having that lack in their knowledge.
“I personally would like to see exams move to Christmas this year. This is a radical solution but this is an unprecedented situation.
“Curriculum delivery, I believe, is absolutely vital and examination is vital. Exams are not just an academic test, they’re a pressure experience, a part of our human development, and that prepares us for later life.”
Mr Williamson said Ofsted will enforce legal requirements for state schools to provide high-quality remote education.
He said: “We expect schools to provide between three and five hours teaching a day, depending on the child’s age.
“If parents feel their child’s school is not providing suitable remote education they should first raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher and, failing that, report the matter to Ofsted.”
But Thirsk and Malton Tory Kevin Hollinrake said: “Some North Yorkshire schools are operating a full, formal timetable, with checks and balances including roll calls and marking, but some schools are not.”
In a separate statement, York Outer Conservative Julian Study said: “Having criticised the Government over the algorithm mistake, I will be watching carefully to ensure York’s children receive teacher-assessed grades as outlined, and am ready to take up any concerns parents and pupils wish to raise with me."
Last month, Mr Williamson gave an “absolutely” cast-iron guarantee that exams in England would not be cancelled this academic year.
Addressing his previous pledge, shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “At that moment we should have known they were doomed to be cancelled.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has called on Ofqual and the Government to avoid “a repeat of the shambles of last summer”.
Mr Barton said: “The Education Secretary’s vague statement does not take us a great deal further forward other than to set out the broad parameters for the exam regulator Ofqual to work out a detailed plan.”
He added: “It is frustrating that there is not an off-the-shelf Plan B ready to go. We have repeatedly called on the Government and the regulator to prepare such a plan in the event of exams being cancelled, and have repeatedly offered to work with them in doing so.
“However, ministers have been so busy insisting that exams will take place that they have failed to ensure that there is a contingency system which can be immediately rolled out. This is, frankly, a dereliction of duty.”