December 03, 2020

English students will get advance notice of exam topics in 2021

English students will get advance notice of exam topics in 2021

More generous grading, advance notice of exam topics, exam aids, and additional papers are some of the extra measures promised by the UK’s Department for Education (DfE) in response to the ongoing disruption to education caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The measures aim to “boost fairness and support students” in next summer’s GCSE and A-level exams in England. Additional “backup” exams will also be held in July for students who have to miss main exams or assessments due to illness or self-isolation. Those taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see changes to their exams to ensure fairness.

Headteachers and teaching unions have generally welcomed the announcement, describing it is “a reasonable package” of measures for the situation, but are still concerned about wide disparities in learning within the academic cohort. One in five secondary pupils were absent from school last week for Covid-related reasons.

The DfE is establishing an advisory group to look more closely at the disparity in learning experiences and the pandemic’s varying impact on pupils across the country. According to the BBC, ministers are hoping that the new measures will be of greatest benefit to those who have suffered most.

Simon Burgess and Hans Sievertsen wrote for IZA World of Labor about the long-term consequences of missed schooling early in the pandemic, when there was a global move to home schooling. While many countries have returned children to the classroom, pupils are still needing to take extended periods of time away from the classroom for Covid-related reasons. Burgess and Sievertsen write that although “[f]amilies are widely agreed to provide major inputs into a child’s learning … typically, the families’ role is seen as a complement to the schools’ input.” 

They continue by saying that “while many parents round the world do successfully school their children at home, this seems unlikely to generalize over the whole population.”

The economists, who both specialize in education, warn that “there will be substantial disparities between families in the extent to which they can help their children learn. Key differences include: the amount of time available to devote to teaching, the non-cognitive skills of the parents, resources (for example, not everyone will have the kit to access the best online material), and also the amount of knowledge—it’s hard to help your child learn something that you may not understand yourself. Consequently, this episode will probably lead to an increase in the inequality of human capital growth for the affected cohorts.”

Read more from IZA World of Labor on the subject of economic inequality.

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