Labour is calling for next year’s A-levels and GCSEs in England to be delayed because of coronavirus – amid reports pupils going back to one school this week could be sent home for “malicious coughing”.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said exams should be pushed back to allow extra teaching time as pupils now face a “mountain to climb” after losing out on up to six months of teaching.
She said exams due next May should be delayed until June or July.
Ms Green said: “Pupils across the country who have missed out on vital teaching time will have a mountain to climb to prepare for May exams unless the government steps in.
“Ministers had warning after warning about problems with this year’s exam results, but allowed it to descend into a fiasco.
“This is too important for Boris Johnson to leave until the last minute. Pupils heading back to school need clarity and certainty about the year ahead.”
The shadow education secretary told Sky News there are “no ideal solutions in the crisis that we’re in”.
Speaking to Sky News @ Breakfast, Ms Green said: “We really need to put young people first when we’re thinking about this and make sure that they’re given every possible opportunity to perform to their best and to be able to show their potential when it comes to the year-end assessment.
“That’s why we’ve suggested delaying the exam date, so there’s more time for teaching and learning, obviously commensurate with there being enough time for the exams to be marked and the results to be agreed and then for colleges and universities to run their admissions process.”
She acknowledged the change could prove to be “challenging”, but added: “I think it is really important that the government does the work to do that detailed planning now and to have a contingency plan in place for if exams can’t take place next summer.”
Schools across England will open for pupils in all year groups on Tuesday – and many have reportedly brought in strict new rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Daily Mail, pupils at Ark Alexandra Academy in Hastings, East Sussex could be excluded for “deliberate or malicious coughs/sneezes at any point; humorous, inappropriate comments or statements related to the coronavirus; purposeful physical contact with any other person”.
The newspaper also reported that Byron Academy in Acton, west London, has a new behaviour policy which says that any pupil who “wilfully ignores or refuses” to follow the rules will be moved and if teachers think the are putting others at risk “then parents should expect that their child may be excluded”.
Labour is also urging ministers to review the existing support arrangements for post-16 students so that pupils preparing to sit their A-levels are not left without help.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the proposal was “worthy of serious consideration”.
“What is most important is that we don’t see a repeat of this year’s chaos,” he said.
“Poor planning and last-minute changes by the government caused misery for many students. It would be indefensible if that happened again.
“Labour’s suggestion of a delay to help with ‘catch-up’ is worthy of serious consideration.
“A delay is not without its problems, a consequential delay to the publication of results will put pressure on higher education providers such as universities and colleges as well as employers. All this will need to be dealt with.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise that students due to take exams next summer will have experienced disruption to their education, which is why we prioritised bringing Year 10 and Year 12 pupils back to school last term.
“Exams will go ahead next year, and we have been working closely with the sector, Ofqual and exam boards to consider our approach.”