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Most A-level and GCSE exams will be delayed by three weeks in 2021 – Williamson

File photo of a general view of UK pupils sitting an exam. Most A-level and GCSE exams in England will be delayed by three weeks next year due to the pandemic, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed. Photo by David Jones/PA Media

By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent

Most A-level and GCSE exams in England will be delayed by three weeks next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said.

The 2021 exams will go ahead, but the majority of tests will be pushed back to give pupils more time to catch up on their learning following school closures.

The exams, which usually begin in May, will be delayed to June and July – apart from the English and maths GCSEs which will take place before the half-term.

GCSE and A-level results will be given out to students in the same week in August following the change, Mr Williamson announced.

It comes after education unions warned last week that moving the timing of exams back slightly was unlikely to make any significant difference to the varied learning experiences students have had this year.

In a written ministerial statement on Monday, Mr Williamson said: “We know that exams are the fairest way of measuring a student’s abilities and accomplishments, including the most disadvantaged."

“We want to give our young people the opportunity next summer to demonstrate what they know and can do.”

The announcement comes following the fiasco around grading of GCSE and A-level students this summer after exams were cancelled amid Covid-19.

Thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm, before England’s exams regulator Ofqual announced a U-turn allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.

Mr Williamson has said the 2021 exam series for the majority of A-levels and GCSEs will start on June 7 and end on July 2.

Students will receive their AS and A-level results on Tuesday August 24 and GCSE students will receive their grades on Friday August 27.

One maths and one English GCSE exam will take place before the May half-term to give pupils who may need to self-isolate during the exam period the “best chance” of sitting a paper in these subjects, Mr Williamson said.

Some AS-levels and A-levels with very small numbers of students will also be scheduled before half-term.

It comes after Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney announced last week that National 5 exams would not go ahead in 2021 and Higher and Advanced Highers would be delayed until May 13.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, warned that a “compression” of the exam series may impact student wellbeing.

He said: “Announcing a delay is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the planning that now needs to be done."

“This step does not address the disparity between different student’s different levels of disruption to learning; much more needs to be done to ensure that the qualification system takes account of this so that students can have confidence that the grades they are awarded in 2021 are fair.”