Thursday 3 December 2020 / 1:39 PM Kate Green

Kate Green responds to a statement on exams and accountability in the Commons

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Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, responding to a statement on exams and accountability in the Commons today, said:


“I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and the Schools Minister for discussing these proposals with me and colleagues yesterday.


“I’m glad the Government have finally responded  to the pleas of students, their parents and teachers who’ve been asking for months how next summer’s exams will be conducted fairly.


“But while I welcome measures that will help mean pupils will be assessed on what they have learned, that reserve papers will be in place for pupils who might miss out, that performance tables will be suspended and that routine Ofsted inspections will not resume in January – many of the measures that Labour called for – today’s announcement still bakes in fundamental inequities between students who’ve suffered different levels of disruption to their learning. I also welcome his decision to suspend league tables this year.


“Mr Speaker, the Government have known since September that an ongoing pandemic would create huge challenges in schools, and for months they will have heard school leaders, parents, and Members on this side of the House calling for a credible plan to address them. It took them until December to provide one.


“So can the Secretary of State tell us what took him so long? Why did he leave students in a horrible and uncertain limbo?


“The truth is that dither and delay have limited the Department’s options. Had they acted sooner they could have done more to make the system fairer. I do welcome the decision to make the distribution of grades similar to last year’s, to ensure that pupils sitting their exams this year do not feel unfairly disadvantaged.


“But we know that, last year, while grades rose across the board, some pupils – particularly those in private schools – were more likely to see a sharp rise. So how is he going to ensure this year that the distribution of grades is spread evenly across not just subjects, but across schools and postcodes, to ensure that the most disadvantaged pupils are treated fairly?


“And is he not concerned that providing info in advance about subject content will benefit pupils at random, with those who happen to have already covered the assessed material benefitting at the expense of those who did not? At worst, will it not in fact mean that pupils who have faced the greatest disruption to their learning still lose out the most?


“He mentioned the Government’s new expert group but can he tell us why, when changes were so clearly going to have to be made to exams, the Government has been so late setting this up? And can he confirm exactly when this group will report, the suggestion this morning that it will report in spring he must know far too late to help pupils sitting exams this academic year?


“There was significant support for greater optionality in exams – an approach his Department took for some exams. This would allow pupils to be assessed on what they’ve learned with fewer pupils losing out at random. If it works for some objects, can the Secretary of State explain clearly why this is not part of today’s announcement?


“What is he doing to address the fact that over a million pupils were out of school this week? We know that exam classes in some regions have faced disproportionate levels of disruption. I asked him two weeks ago how many pupils have been out of school two, three, or more times because of coronavirus. He still hasn’t supplied me with the info – doesn’t he know it? What can he tell us about how different regions are affected?


“How many of those children who have been out of school have had full access to remote learning. How many laptops have been delivered to students who need them? Why are we continuing to hear reports of schools receiving laptops only after students isolate, wasting valuable time getting them set them up and delivered.


“It is one thing to update guidance, it is quite another to actually support schools to deliver remote education to all who need it. And why has the NTP now been stretched more thinly across two years  – can he even guarantee that all students on FSM will have access to tutoring?


“We know that many students sitting exams next summer want to go on to university or college. Can he ensure that the approach he takes – and I know the possibility of an asterisk by grades has been discussed – do not make pupils feel stigmatised?


“What discussions is he having with colleges and universities to ensure any additional support these students may need will be in place for them next September. And does he believe any changes will be needed to the timings of university admissions?


“Does he acknowledge that there are likely to be more appeals than in a normal year? How will he ensure all students can access a fair appeals process? And how will he ensure that there are the markers, with the time and resources needed to grade these papers in time, particularly in the second exam window?


“Can he tell us when pupils taking vocational and technical qualifications will receive greater clarity? And what steps are they taking to clear the logjam on the testing of apprentices’ functional skills in maths and English?


“Mr Speaker, the Government have finally acted, but they have been far too slow, and the measures announced today simply won’t address the inherent unfairness that students who’ve lost the most learning will suffer the greatest disadvantage when they take exams next summer.

“I want students to have the chance to show what they’ve achieved in the most challenging of circumstances, but after months of silence, these proposals fall short of the fair exams process the Secretary of State promised. This is at best a ‘requires improvement.’”