Ofqual suggests online exams could be option next summer after this year's grading chaos

Online tests could be an option for GCSE and A-level students next year, Ofqual‘s chair has suggested in the wake of this year’s exam grading fiasco.

Roger Taylor said “some form of examination” is needed for students to feel grades are fair.

Ofqual’s chair said on Wednesday England’s exams regulator had advised the government against cancelling exams this year when they were working out what to do amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Taylor said Ofqual had suggested delaying exams as a second-choice option, and some form of calculated grades if neither of the other suggestions were “acceptable”.

Exams were cancelled this year due to coronavirus, and the replacement grading system sparked protests and a public outcry after it emerged nearly 40 per cent of A-levels had been downgraded from teacher-estimated grades in moderation.

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In a U-turn days after A-level results came out, the government announced A-level and GCSE students could take their teacher-submitted grades or their moderated marks – whichever was higher.

Speaking about options for next year’s exams, Mr Taylor told the education select committee on Wednesday: “We think that some form of examination, or standardised test, or something that gives the student an ability to demonstrate their skills and knowledge is going to be essential for any awarding system that students regard as fair.”

When asked what Ofqual’s plans were if students are unable to sit exams again due to coronavirus, Mr Taylor said: “We believe there are mechanisms, such as additional papers.

“There are other mechanisms including, for example, using online tests. We feel we have enough time to come up with a solution to that problem.”

Ofqual — which launched a consultation in July which proposed delaying the start of GCSEs to 7 June to allow for more teaching time — has not yet made a decision on the timetable for the 2021 exam series.

Julie Swan, Ofqual’s executive director for general qualifications, told MPs that a decision on whether to delay exams was due “within weeks rather than over a period of months”.

Speaking after the education committee, Paul Whiteman from the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “We need to see credible plans for 2021, and frankly, we should be at that point by now, as it is not just a question of next summer, but all the other arrangements for teaching, learning and assessment which will have to begin from this week.”

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, told MPs on Tuesday that the government’s plan is for exams to go ahead next year.

He said he was working with the sector to ensure it happens “as smoothly as possible”.

Mr Williamson also said GCSE and A-level exams could be pushed back further in the year than usual, to allow students more teaching time following disruption caused by Covid-19.

Labour has called for ministers to produce what it labelled a “close the gap” strategy after newly published studies suggested the coronavirus-related closures significantly widened the attainment gap between pupils.

A recent survey showed teachers estimated on average pupils were three months behind in their learning, after some had been out of a classroom for months.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have invested in remote education, providing devices, routes and resources for the children who need them most and … our £1bn Covid catchup package will tackle the impact of lost teaching time — including targeted funding for the most disadvantaged students.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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