PM says exam-free summer ‘as good a compromise as we can come to’ for pupils


Allowing teachers to award grades to pupils this summer is “as good as compromise as we can come to” following the cancellation of formal exams, Boris Johnson has said.

The prime minister described this year’s system for awarding A-level and GCSE grades in England – as well as some vocational and technical qualifications – as “durable” and the “right way forward”.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with Year 11 students in the canteen during a visit to Accrington Academy in Accrington, Lancashire, as they prepare for the return of all pupils on March 8. Picture date: Thursday February 25, 2021.
Boris Johnson spoke with students during a visit to Accrington Academy in Lancashire

With the government aiming to avoid a repeat of last year’s grades scandal – which saw a moderating algorithm ditched after widespread complaints it unfairly downgraded pupils’ grades – teachers have been told to base students’ grades on a range of evidence.

This includes mock exams, coursework, essays and in-class tests.

Schools will also have the option of using assessment questions provided by exam boards to help decide what grades to award, although the assessments are not expected to take place under exam conditions.

It has been claimed the latest plans could cause “extremely high grade inflation”, with the government accused of risking unfairness in its efforts not to be accused of using an algorithm or having “exams by the back door”.

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But, speaking on a visit to Accrington Academy in Lancashire on Thursday, the prime minister defended the new grading system.

“In an ideal world you would not have taken kids out of school because of the pandemic, we wouldn’t have been forced to do this,” he said.

“And in an ideal world we’d be continuing with exams as you normally have them, and the best place for kids is in the classroom and the best way to check on kids’ progress is with normal exams.

“But I think this is as good a compromise as we can come to. I think it will be fair, I think it will be durable and it’s the right way forward.”

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‘No algorithm’ for England’s pupils

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been heavily criticised during the COVID pandemic, including over the closure and reopening of schools during and after lockdowns, as well as over last year’s exams controversy.

But Mr Johnson added that “of course” he had confidence in Mr Williamson.

He said, ahead of the reopening of schools to all pupils on 8 March, that students at Accrington Academy had “done very well, learning remotely, they’ve stuck with it”.

“It’s been productive and got better over the course of the lockdowns, but the best place for kids is in schools and they have got absolutely no doubt about it the pupils themselves.”

Mr Johnson spoke around the same time as Mr Williamson set out the details of the new grading system to MPs.

The education secretary told the House of Commons that children and young people had “paid a considerable price for the disruption of the past year”, which had “caused enormous damage to what should have been a carefree and exciting part of growing up”.

But he vowed that the government’s catch-up programme – including £700m in funding – and the “fair and robust” system for allocating grades this year meant “young people will be able to look forward to the next stage of their lives with confidence”.

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