GCSE, AS and A-Level examinations will be scrapped in England and replaced by school-based teacher assessments, Gavin Williamson has confirmed.
The education secretary was speaking on his plans in the House of Commons on Wednesday as MPs prepared to vote on England’s third national lockdown, including the closure of all schools.
He told MPs that “schools have not suddenly become unsafe” as he set out his plans in the Commons.
He said: “The last thing any education secretary wants to do is announce that schools will close, and this is not a decision that the Government ever wanted to take.
“I’d like to reassure everyone that our schools have not suddenly become unsafe, but limiting the number of people who attend them is essential when the Covid rates are climbing as they are now.
“We must curb the escalating cases of Covid throughout the country and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.
“That is why today I am setting out the contingency plans I had prepared but had hoped (I would) never had to implement.”
Confirming that GCSEs, A-Levels and As-Level examinations will not go ahead he told MPs: “Last year, all four nations of the United Kingdom found their arrangements for awarding grades did not deliver what they needed, with the impact felt painfully by students and their parents.
“Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, the impact of this pandemic now means that it is not possible to have these exams this year.
“I can confirm that GCSEs, A-levels and AS-level exams will not go ahead this summer. This year, we’re going to put our trust in teachers, rather than algorithms.”
Gavin Williamson said that a form of teacher-assessed grades will be used, with training to ensure grades are awarded “fairly and consistently”.
He said: “The department and Ofqual had already worked up a range of contingency options.
“While the details will need to be fine-tuned in consultation with Ofqual, the exam boards and teaching representative organisations.
“I can confirm now that I wish to use a form of teacher-assessed grades with training and support provided to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently across the country.
“I know students and staff have worked hard to prepare for the January exams and assessments of vocational and technical qualifications and we want to allow schools and colleges to continue with these assessments where they judge it is right to do so.
“No college should feel pressured to offer these and we will ensure all students are able to progress fairly.”
Williamson confirmed that a national voucher scheme will be in place so that all eligible children will continue to receive free school meals while schools are shut.
He also expressed his desire to get all children back to school as soon as possible.
“The moment that the virus permits, all our children will be back in school with their teachers and their friends,” he said.
“Until then we have put in place the measures we need to make sure that they continue to progress.”
The move saw a backlash from shadow education secretary Kate Green who said “It was disappointing (Gavin Williamson) did not make a new year’s resolution to avoid U-turns or chronic incompetence.”
Ms Green said Mr Williamson had pledged to ensure exams would go ahead months ago.
She added that she had wanted exams to go ahead “fairly” but it was clear a “plan B” would always be required.
With no official decision on technical and vocational examinations being made Ms Green called on the education secretary to “do the right thing.”
She said: “Frankly, he’s failing to show leadership on the exams taking place in January and he’s leaving it simply to schools and colleges to decide what they should do.
“Will he now do the right thing and cancel this week’s Btec exams as parents, colleges and the Association of Colleges are calling for?”