Exams 2021: GCSE and A-levels to be graded more leniently next year to ‘boost fairness’ post-Covid

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GCSE and A-level exams will be graded more leniently next year to “boost fairness” after Covid, the Education Secretary announced this morning.

Gavin Williamson vowed not to damage the “life chances” of a whole year of students as he unveiled the new measures to help kids facing exams after bouts of self-isolation.

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Gavin Williamson unveiled the new measures this morning
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Kids will be given cheat sheets with formulas to help them in tests[/caption]

Mr Williamson stressed that exams would go ahead, and England would not follow Scotland or Wales who have cancelled some or all of the tests.

The Education Secretary said: “We are not going to let Covid damage the life chances of an entire year of students by cancelling next year’s exams.

“Exams are the best form of assessment we have, and we will ensure any students preparing to sit them has every chance possible to do their very, very best.”

He told MPs in the House of Commons this morning that the coronavirus crisis is still causing “disruption” for students, and kids will be “generously” graded to stop them recieving lower marks than they deserve.

Mr Williamson said the generous grading system was part of a slew of measures, including giving kids advance warning of what topics they will be tested on.

Students will be told in January what topics they will be assessed on, to give them more time to prepare.

He acknowledged that this had been an “incredibly difficult” year for kids who had missed out on so much learning.

His own daughter is 16 and facing GCSEs next year.

“What we want children to do is just to do really well, get an amazing grade,” Mr Williamson said.

“That’s why we’ve shown the level of generosity in the grading system.”

Pupils will also be given exam aides with formula sheets to help them.

The new measures aim to compensate for “Generation Covid”, who have lost out on classroom time.

Alarming statistics released yesterday reveal that one in five secondary school kids are self-isolating at home.

And exams will be delayed by three weeks for kids to catch up.

It comes as:

  • Boris Johnson hailed the “fantastic” new Pfizer vaccine – but warned it was not “game over” yet
  • The Army has begun carrying out practice runs of mass vaccinations
  • Deputy CMO Jonathan Van Tam said Covid is with us “forever”

When pressured on how he would ensure the results were “level”, as students in Manchester have missed more school than those in Cornwall, the Education Secretary said a new body of experts would be set up to deal with fairness.

In the most extreme cases, kids could be given asterisks next to their grades to indicate to universities or colleges they unfairly missed out on more school.

“The most important thing is how young people then progress onto the next stage,” Mr Williamson said.

“We want them to look at how they can properly flag (when a student has missed more school).”

The Education Secretary said he had full confidence the exams would be able to go ahead “safely and securely”.

He stressed that if exams were put off it would unfairly affect the most disadvantaged students.

“Every bit of evidence and every study that has been carried out has shown that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, children from black and ethnic minority communities are most disadvantaged from not sitting exams.

“It’s children from the disadvantaged background who actually perform better in exams over teacher assessment.”


Different exam papers in the key subjects of English and maths will be held more than two weeks apart.

This is so that if a student misses one paper because they are self-isolating, their grade will be based on the paper they did sit.

Ministers are desperate to avoid another exams disaster after a botched algorithm sent this summer’s results into meltdown.

AFP or licensors

Mr William faced fury from students who were disadvantaged by a “mutant” algorithm which decided their grades[/caption]

Mr Williamson has stressed exams must go ahead
AFP or licensors

The Government had to tear up the results and dish out higher, teacher-predicted grades after an outcry.

Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman backed exams going ahead.

She said: “Teenagers have put a lot of effort in already. They want to prove what they can do.

“They do also need to know they will be treated fairly and that they will have a really good shot at doing well in these exams.”

Scotland has cancelled its National 5s, its GCSE equivalent, but is going ahead with Highers.

Wales has cancelled its A Levels and GCSEs.

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