MP Robert Halfon warns of 50/50 chance exams could be scrapped again next year

STUDENTS taking GCSE and A-Level exams next summer are facing a 50/50 change they could be scrapped again, according to Harlow MP Robert Halfon.

Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Committee, issued the warning amid sustained criticism over the Government’s handling of exam results this summer and their wider approach to education during the pandemic.

The MP for Harlow told the Sunday Times he wants exam regulator Ofqual to be set a deadline in October to decide whether to scrap exams next year and again award grades based on teachers’ assessments. 

Mr Halfon is expected to issue this message this week before delivering it to education secretary Gavin Williamson on September 16.

Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor is to face questions from MPs as pupils return to classrooms this week, when he appears before the committee on Wednesday.

Mr Williamson is then set to be grilled about the A-level and GCSE results fiasco on September 16.

The Conservative MP argued the decision on next year’s exams should be made quickly so teachers can prepare.

He said: ‘It is 50:50 that exams go ahead next summer. Schools, the Department of Education and Ofsted need to work out…how much disruption there will be to pupils’ learning in the coming year.

‘Serious analysis needs to be done and then they need to make an announcement about exams within the next few weeks.’

He warned that students may have fallen too far behind due to months out of school and raised fears that a second wave could force pupils back to home learning. 

An Ofqual spokeswoman said: ‘There are no plans to cancel either GCSEs or A-levels in 2021. There are also currently no plans to curtail programmes of study.

‘But we keep all plans constantly under review because the progress of the pandemic is uncertain.’

It comes days after Boris Johnson fired the top civil servant at the Department for Education today saying ‘fresh official leadership’ was needed after the A-Level and GCSE exam fiasco.

Jonathan Slater has been effectively removed from his post and will leave on September 1, it was announced today, 24 hours after Ofqual chief executive Sally Collier resigned from her post in the wake of the grading U-turn.

It means that of the people in the top positions overseeing the grading for exams that were not sat because of coronavirus, only Education Secretary Gavin Williamson remains in his post despite numerous calls for him to go.

Gavin Williamson is expected to be grilled on September 16  about this summer’s exams fiasco.

Ofqual was heavily criticised for its handling of the process for awarding grades after exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis.

The regulator used a controversial algorithm to calculate student grades but it was ditched in a dramatic U-turn after it emerged that 40 per cent of grades had been downgraded below teacher estimates.

Mr Williamson had initially backed using the algorithm, describing the grading system as ‘robust’.

But student and parent anger forced the Government to change tack as grades were re-awarded based on teacher predictions.

The Education Secretary initially blamed Ofqual for the fiasco but later insisted he had full confidence in the regulator and its leadership.

Mr Williamson remains under pressure to quit over his handling of the exams debacle and a Government U-turn on the wearing of face masks in schools in England has also prompted further scrutiny of his position.

But the Education Secretary has previously indicated he had not considered resigning.

Mr Williamson last night issued a warning that parents who do not send their children back to school risk putting a ‘huge dent in their future life chances’.

In an open letter to parents, the Education Secretary acknowledged that some parents may have concerns about their children attending school in England for the first time since March, with millions set to return to the classroom from next week.

However, he insisted that schools are safe, detailing measures which have been put in place to minimise infection, while reassuring parents that the health risk posed to children by Covid-19 is ‘extremely low’. 

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