Monday 14 December 2020 8:03 am

DEBATE: Should national exams in 2021 be cancelled?

Emily Horton is a fellow at Year Here and former journalist for The London Student
and Keith Straughan
Professor Keith Straughan is chief executive of Axiologs and one of the developers of online testing platform Tenjin

Emily Horton, fellow at Year Here and former journalist for The London Student, says YES

If we want to avoid the further exacerbation of the already existing educational inequality gap, 2021’s GCSE and A-level exams should be cancelled.

The pandemic has led to many of Britain’s poorest students missing out on as much as half a year of studying, with attainment among the most disadvantaged compounded further by a lack of internet access, additional caring responsibilities, parental job stresses, and mental health pressures.

It would therefore be immensely unfair to ask students to attempt to catch up and sit exams as usual in May 2021.

Instead, student grades should be determined by their teachers — the people working directly with them, who have spent years marking their homework and mock exams, and are best-placed to know what they are capable of.

The cancellation would also bring a level of calm to school leaders, whose mental health has been at the whim of last-minute government changes.

Yes, we have a vaccine. But it doesn’t mean things will return to normal for schools 2021 — and it doesn’t reverse the educational hours that have already been lost. The government should start thinking now about contingency plans that are fair to students and teachers alike, before it’s too late.

Professor Keith Straughan, chief executive of Axiologs and a developer of online testing platform Tenjin, says NO

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, almost every school and university has blended traditional and digital infrastructure to progress student development. Yet one major area that has failed to keep pace is examinations.

We saw the chaos over the summer when cancelled exams led first to students being assigned grades via algorithm, then, in a U-turn, back to teacher-led grading — a move which came too late for many to secure their university places. 

Thankfully, with a vaccine now available and world-leading digital examination platforms being rolled out across the UK, there are new options at our disposal this year which can enable exams to take place – without any risk to student or invigilator safety.

It is important to recognise the role that examinations play, and that they are part and parcel of our education system. Denying another cohort of students the opportunity to prove what they can do would be unfair.

If we can host these crucial tests in a secure way, at schools and universities or via adaptable online platforms, we will be going some way to restoring a sense of normality and structure to young people’s lives.

Main image credit: Getty

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