3rd December 2020

Education Policy Institute response to Government’s plans for 2021 exams

Today (Thursday 3rd December) the government has outlined measures to support GCSE and A level students through their exams next summer, following the significant disruption to their education this year.

Responding to the government’s plans, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) welcomes several of the measures to support students in their exams in 2021, but also contends that modifications to assessments and final grades are likely to mean little without effective policies to help students catch up with lost learning time.


Commenting on the government’s plans for 2021 exams, David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute said:   

“Taken together, the government’s measures announced today provide a reasonable strategy to ensure students are better-equipped to complete their exams next summer following the disruption to their education.

“We are supportive of plans to announce exam content early on, to enable students to focus on certain areas – but this needs to be made available immediately. The government should outline this content no later than the first week of January, to allow schools and students sufficient time to prepare.

“Awarding a full grade to students even if they can only sit one exam in a given subject provides an important insurance policy, while plans to adjust grading to allow a higher pass rate are in line with our recommendations and will also help to cushion any learning loss. We also welcome the government’s decision to allow equivalent generosity for the hundreds of thousands of students who are taking vocational qualifications. However, we still need a plan to ensure that those taking technical qualifications who have lost learning time can achieve work-ready proficiency.

“It is very clear that some students will have lost much more learning time than others this year through no fault of their own, due to their social background or because their area has been hit harder than others by the pandemic. The government is therefore right to consider whether further action needs to be taken to recognise this. It now needs to engage with experts on the potential options so that we can ensure plans are both fair and proportionate.  

“All of the changes to assessments and results set out by the government today are important for students and schools, but it is also critical that we look beyond exam grades at how we can support students’ underlying learning progress, which has been thrown off course by the pandemic. The government’s current pupil catch-up plans are poorly targeted and do not go far enough to mitigate against all of the lost learning time experienced this year. Additional funding, targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils, needs to be made available this year and in future years.

“The GCSE attainment gap between the poorest pupils and the rest was already over 18 months before Covid struck the education system. If the government fails to support these pupils now, there is a real risk that further inequalities open up in the future.”