Home education advocates have called on the government to act fast to ensure that private entrants to GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels do not face a second year of delays to obtaining crucial qualifications after summer exams were cancelled again.
Home educators were dismayed last week when the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced that exams would be replaced by a “teacher-assessed system”. Such assessments are unavailable to most privately entered students.
Of the 20,000 candidates not affiliated with schools or colleges entered privately for courses last year, many were left without qualifications because, having studied independently, they could not be given centre-assessed grades.
This year, with many of those applicants trying again, as well as anecdotal reports of large numbers of parents taking their children out of schools because of the risk posed by Covid-19, home education advocates say even more are likely to suffer the same fate.
Alison Sauer, of the Centre for Personalised Education, who has been in discussions over the issue with the Department for Education and Ofqual, the exams regulator, called for swift action.
She said: “We want the DfE to introduce a system of assessed portfolios of work and possibly remotely invigilated exams, to provide a means for all private candidates, including home-educated students, to obtain a grade.
“With just a month left until entry deadlines the government must act fast, otherwise thousands of young people face their lives being put on hold for a second year, postponing important milestones such as university applications or entry to work.”
In a recent exchange of letters between Williamson and Simon Lebus, interim chief regulator at Ofqual, both indicated that students entering privately for courses will not be overlooked a second time. A consultation on methods of assessment began a call for submissions on Friday. But problems remain, according to Jeremy Yallop of the Home Educators’ Qualifications Association.
Because deadlines for entry to exams had not passed before the announcement that exams were cancelled last week, most entrants had not yet signed up, Yallop said. Now, even if the government comes up with a way for private entrants to be graded without exams, many will face difficulty in finding somewhere to sit assessments.
“A day or two after the education secretary’s announcement … [centres] started sending out emails saying, ‘I’m sorry, you are not going to be able to take your assessment here,’” Yallop said. “As a result of centres closing their doors, the ones that are remaining are putting their prices up.”
Last year Amanda Jordan, from Lossiemouth, spent more than £2,000 travelling across the country to find an examination centre where her daughter could take her AS-level exams in the special autumn series arranged by the government, after the exam centre where she was originally registered said it could not accommodate her. This year, she needs to find assessment centres for her daughter to sit A-level assessments.
She said: “We’re sick with nerves and I kept the information [about the cancellation of this year’s exams] as long as I could from my daughter, because of the impact of is it going to happen or isn’t it? Is university even going to happen now?”
Part of the frustration for many independent students is that the rationale for cancelling exams this year is that schooled candidates will miss so many lessons due to lockdowns that they will not be prepared. This does not apply to students who have studied independently.
“For my daughter, if she could take an exam safely, we would always go the exam route, because that is for us the only way we can get a fair result for our daughter,” Jordan said.
In a consultation document on assessment arrangements published on Friday, the DfE said: “A range of options for private candidates to be assessed and make sure they receive a grade are also part of considerations.”
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “Fairness to young people has been and will continue to be fundamental to every decision we take on these issues, and I’m determined that despite all the challenges posed by this pandemic, they will not prevent students getting on with and making a success of their lives.”