Education Committee writes to Secretary of State on cancellation of summer exams and 2021 series

12 Nov 2020 01:40 PM

The Education Committee has written to the Secretary of State for Education to highlight serious concerns about the independence, accountability and transparency of the exams regulator Ofqual and to call for proper planning to be put in place to ensure students in England are able to sit exams next year.

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The letter from Chair of the Committee Robert Halfon to Gavin Williamson sets out the Committee’s findings and recommendations following the problems which resulted from the cancellation of this summer’s exams due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“The fallout and unfairness from the cancellation of this summer’s exams will have an ongoing impact on the lives of thousands of families. But such harm could have been avoided had Ofqual not buried its head in the sand and ignored repeated warnings, including from our Committee, about the flaws in the system for awarding grades.

“A lack of transparency and independence at Ofqual meant opportunities to raise alarm bells were missed. Ofqual should have acted to protect the futures of our young people.

“There are arguments to be made for and against Ofqual remaining independent, and for its duties being brought inside the Department for Education directly under ministerial control. It must be absolutely clear to all where accountability lies. What is not acceptable is a half-way house position where lines of accountability for standards are blurred.  

“Both Ofqual and the DfE must learn hard lessons from this summer’s exams controversy and move swiftly to ensure exams can take place next year in one form or another. They must ensure a level playing field for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have struggled during COVID. The catch-up fund and pupil premium should be used to help those left behind or at home due to COVID issues.

“Ofqual and the DfE must also make sure there is no repeat of the unfairness faced by pupils should the pandemic continue to impact on learning. Young people have already been among some of the hardest hit these past few months and they must be properly supported to ensure they get the future their hard work deserves.”

Committee’s main findings and recommendations

Independence of the exam regulator Ofqual

Accountability and scrutiny

Exams 2021

The Committee raised concerns about the fairness of the calculated grades system in its report published in July. Following the publication of this summer’s exam results, the Committee held further evidence sessions with both Ofqual and the Secretary of State.

Further information