Impact of cancelled exams by Barnaby Lenon

There will be a number of consequences of the cancellation of GCSEs and A-levels. 

Firstly, there will be a vast number of 16 and 18-year-olds who are bored and idle between March and September.  They are confined to their homes.

Their schools may attempt to set work online.  This is important because private schools need to justify to parents the summer term fee.  It is important because children need something to do.  It is important because if they do not work this summer they will be well behind all previous cohorts of similar age children when schools reopen.

Year 11 pupils (those whose GCSEs have been cancelled) could now embark on their chosen A-levels.  In the past pupils changed their A-level choices once they saw their actual GCSE grades.  It would seem foolish to do that this year – the judgement they have already made about A-level subjects should not be influenced by GCSE grades assigned by a computer.

Year 13 pupils may be offered ‘university preparation’ courses by their schools but it could be hard to sustain that.  So there is a danger that some sixth formers will be going up to university in September or October having done no academic work for 6 months.  They will need help to get going again.  When my daughter went to Bristol university her first piece of marked work was in week 6.  All universities should set and mark work at the end of week one this Autumn (assuming they can reopen then).

But the biggest problem is that the Year 11 and 13 cohorts never had the chance to revise their GCSE and A-level subjects. That matters because we know that simply attending lessons does not commit knowledge to the long-term memory. Committing knowledge to the long-term memory is fundamentally important.  Imagine embarking on French A-level when you have not memorised all the grammar and vocabulary from the GCSE – you will be far less competent than similar students in previous years.  So, in some subjects (like languages and maths) schools may have to resume the summer term GCSE revision classes which were cancelled before plunging into the A-level.

What will happen when the results come out in July/August? 

Many Year 13 pupils will get into university.  They may already have received an unconditional offer.  Many will be admitted even if their results are below their offer because universities, having lost overseas students, are desperate.

Some Year 13 pupils will look as if they are not getting their first-choice university because one A-level grade is low.  For example, an Oxbridge applicant who gets A*A*C.  In these circumstances it must be sensible for the school to appeal to the university on the basis that the computer-assigned grade is ‘wrong’….well below the school’s predicted grade, with evidence. It might be that universities themselves set up a formal system to manage this.  So schools and universities need to be ready.

Assigning grades will leave some unhappy pupils/schools so there will be an appeals system and an Autumn exam sitting for those who are not satisfied; the dates for this exam session will not be known for some time.

The appeals system will probably only be about the clerical processes – were the inputs right and was the method applied correctly?  So many pupils may find that they need to sit their exams in the Autumn sitting to get the grade they want.  How will schools prepare them?  Surely it would help greatly for these pupils to rejoin their old school when it opens?

If a student Is not satisfied with their assigned A-level grades and does not get a place at their first choice university and decides, therefore, to sit the rescheduled A-levels in the Autumn, will it be too late to go to university this Autumn?  Universities have said that they will show flexibility to ensure that such students who take this option are able to begin their course with a delayed start time.   Many will start courses in January.

Barnaby Lenon

Dean of Education



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