Teacher assessments will replace GCSE and A-level exams in England this summer, the education secretary has announced.
“This year, we’re going to put our trust in teachers, rather than algorithms,” Gavin Williamson told MPs in the Commons.
Setting out his plans for students as MPs prepared to vote on England’s latest lockdown, Mr Williamson said “schools have not suddenly become unsafe”.
His announcement comes as the government faces pressure over the schools chaos and its strategy for deploying COVID-19 vaccines.
Mr Williamson said schools will remain closed until 1 February, with pupils learning remotely from 11 January when the extended Christmas holidays end.
Vulnerable children and those whose parents are key workers can continue going to school, and nurseries and childminders can remain open.
University students are not able to return to campus but can continue learning remotely.
Announcing that GCSEs, A-levels and AS-level exams will not go ahead, Mr Williamson said: “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.”
Mr Williamson said schools in England are “much better prepared than last March” to implement home-learning and expects schools to provide between three to five hours of teaching a day.
“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,” he said.
Boris Johnson said on Wednesday the lifting of restrictions would be a “gradual process” and not a “big bang” – and that schools would be “the very first things to reopen”.
“That moment may come after the February half-term, although we should remain extremely cautious about the timetable ahead,” the prime minister told MPs.
Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon earlier told Sky News the situation regarding schools was “a mess”.
“I think now we have to move on and make sure we have an exam system that is a level playing field for students and fair to the disadvantaged,” he said.
The Commons has been recalled from its Christmas recess to debate and retrospectively vote on the latest England lockdown set by Mr Johnson on Monday.
The other three nations are taking a similar approach, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon imposing a lockdown on Scotland for the rest of January and the closure of schools until February.
Schools and colleges will be closed in Wales until at least 18 January and move to online learning, with GCSE and A-level exams already cancelled.
In Northern Ireland, pupils will learn remotely until the mid-term break but it is unclear whether exams will go ahead.