GCSEs and A-levels 'back to normal' next year - without Covid catch-up aids

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Exams were cancelled during the pandemic and replaced with teacher assessed grades (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Exams were cancelled during the pandemic and replaced with teacher assessed grades (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Students will no longer be able to rely on study aids in next summer's exams, the Schools Minister has signalled.

GCSE pupils have been allowed extra support in some subjects for the past two years following the massive disruption to their education during the pandemic. Pupils were also given advance notice of what they might be examined on or a choice of topics in some subjects to make sure they are assessed what they have actually learned.

It came after formal exams were scrapped and replaced with teacher-assessed grades in 2020 and 2021 as youngsters spent months out of the classroom. The shift led to a surge in top GCSE and A-level grades.

Tory Minister Nick Gibb said there is an "expectation" that exam aids will not be offered to students next year. Ahead of this summer's results, he warned that grades need to return to pre-pandemic levels this year to ensure GCSE and A-levels carry "weight and credibility" with employers, universities and colleges.

GCSEs and A-levels 'back to normal' next year - without Covid catch-up aids rriddqikeiqtkinvSchools Minister Nick Gibb said it was important for exams to go back to normal after Covid (PA)

England's exams regulator Ofqual has said this year's national results will be lower than last year, but they are expected to be similar to those before the pandemic.

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Pupils in England have faced some disruption to their schooling due to a series of teacher strikes this year. But threats of mass industrial action in the autumn have been called off after teaching unions accepted the Government's pay offer.

Speaking ahead of results day, Mr Gibb told PA: "It is important to get back to normal because we want these qualifications to continue to carry the weight and credibility both with employers and with universities and colleges that they need to have." He said: "Every year that elapses is a year away from the disruption caused by the pandemic and there are more years that those young people have had in school full time."

But Mr Gibb added that there will be an "additional protection" this year where grade boundaries will be altered if senior examiners find evidence nationally of a drop in standards compared with 2019. "A typical student in 2019 - given the same level of ability, the same level of diligence - the likelihood is that same student would get the same grades in 2023 as they would have done in 2019," he said.

Asked whether the exam aids will no longer be offered to students in England next year, Mr Gibb told PA "that will be the expectation" but the final decision will be taken "in due course". The help was intended as "a temporary expedient" for this year.

"The grading is back to 2019 levels and we expect the system to be back fully in the following year," he said.

But teaching unions said exam support should stay in place. Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "While we understand the appetite to fully return to normal from next year onwards, there are many future exam cohorts that have had part of their education disrupted by the pandemic and it's important this is recognised when making decisions in future years."

Sarah Hannafin, head of policy for the NAHT, said: "Employers, universities and colleges are more than capable of understanding changes to approaches in grading and making appropriate changes to their own processes - as we saw when exams were cancelled. A narrow focus on returning to pre-pandemic levels misses opportunities to reflect, review and improve on what we had before."

She said formulae sheets for GCSE maths and equation sheets for physics and combined science "should be kept in place for future exam series."

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Lizzy Buchan

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