6th January 2021

Education Policy Institute responds to Secretary of State’s statement on the cancellation of exams and their replacement

This afternoon, Gavin Williamson confirmed in a statement to the House of Commons that summer examinations will not go ahead. The Secretary of State for Education subsequently set out details on the government’s approach to establishing alternative assessments for pupils.  


Commenting on the decision to cancel exams and establish an alternative system of assessment, Natalie Perera, Chief Executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: 

“We welcome the confirmation that 2021 GCSE and A level exams will not now go ahead. The loss of learning during the pandemic has affected children in such a varied way that the existing exam system could not have been fair.

“Devising a robust alternative to award grades will not be easy, and it is right that some time is now being taken to reflect and consult. Today’s statement was notably short on detail, particularly if contingency plans on exams have already been prepared, as the Secretary of State suggested. 

“The government and Ofqual now need to act with some speed, so that students and schools can quickly adapt to the new expectations. The new system needs to be fair, command student and public support, and create incentives for pupils to go on learning for the rest of the school year.”


David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:

“The new schools lockdown made this step inevitable. Had exams proceeded as normal, the results would have told us just as much about the varied effects of the pandemic on students’ learning as it would about their own abilities and efforts.

“The Department for Education and Ofqual now face one of the most difficult education policy challenges in recent times, in getting a replacement system of grading up and running in a very short time.

“Meanwhile, it’s essential that the government focuses on what more it can do to support home learning and catch up. A much bigger and better targeted package of financial support will soon be needed to support schools in catch up learning both this year and next.”