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Commenting on the Government's announcement on arrangements for qualifications, inspections and accountability for the remainder of this academic year, Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:
 
“Pupils, teachers and school leaders have been waiting anxiously for further details of measures to help ensure those taking their GCSEs and A-Levels next summer are not disadvantaged by the major disruption they are continuing to experience to their education as a result of the pandemic.

“While addressing some of the uncertainty that has surrounded qualifications, inspection and accountability, today's announcement leaves many important questions unanswered.
 
“The NASUWT has never underestimated the scale of this challenge or the problems that disruption to the normal operation of exams creates. However, the Government’s delay in bringing forward plans for next summer’s examinations and qualifications has caused unnecessary anxiety, stress and workload pressures for both teachers and pupils.
 
“It is important that every possible step is taken to ensure that awards are fair to all students who have been impacted by the pandemic. However, the measures announced today do not go far enough.

“Reducing the content of examinations and enabling greater scope for students to answer optional questions would have helped reduce the pressures of next year’s examinations and give pupils a fairer chance to focus on what they have been taught and learned. It is, therefore, profoundly disappointing that greater optionality has been discarded as a strategy, especially since it has already been adopted in a limited range of subjects.
 
“It is remarkable that to date the Government has not come forward with the details needed to reassure those pupils who are unable to sit examinations next summer that they will not be further disadvantaged.
 
“The use of validated teacher assessments for pupils who are unable to sit any examinations will need urgent clarification. Teachers will be especially concerned that this could lead to substantial additional demands at a time when schools are already struggling to cope. The DfE must urgently confirm that its plans will be manageable and sustainable for schools to deliver and will not distract teachers from providing continuity of education for pupils in extremely difficult circumstances.
 
“Whilst we welcome the announcement that students are to be provided with advance notice of the topics to be covered in exam papers and that they will be able to make use of exam aids, these measures will not be sufficient to ensure equity for those pupils who have suffered higher levels of disruption due to Covid-19.

“The Government’s decision to benchmark exam standards for 2021 against those in 2020, while not without issues, is understandable. The cohort of pupils due to sit their examinations next summer have been particularly adversely impacted by the pandemic and recognition of this fact in the awarding process is important. It is now important that Ofqual engages fully and urgently with the sector over the detailed arrangements for standard setting.

“The DfE must ensure that the expert group it intends to convene is directly informed and shaped by practicing teachers and school leaders. Staff in schools have direct and valuable experience of the implications that Covid-19 related disruption has had on learners, particularly those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged and those living in areas of the country and attending schools that have been especially badly affected.
 
“While it is welcome that the Government has confirmed that it will not be publishing primary and secondary performance tables for 2020/21, it is concerning that it intends to publish data on school attendance rates, which risks undermining efforts by schools to take appropriate action to ensure Covid safety and to protect public health during the pandemic.
 
“The decision to require primary assessments, including Key Stage 2 SATs, to be undertaken is extremely difficult to justify. These assessments will serve little purpose and have no validity for those children whose education has been seriously impacted by the pandemic.
 
“Given the current restrictions on schools, it is right that routine Ofsted inspections will remain suspended during the spring term. However, it will be important for further details of the work that Ofsted will be tasked with undertaking during this period to be set out well in advance of the start of the new term.    

“The Government should use this pause in inspections to reflect on how the system of school accountability can more appropriately support and reflect the vital work of all schools.”

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