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GCSE and A-level Examinations

Volume 700: debated on Monday 6 September 2021

5. What steps he is taking to help ensure that the structure of GCSE and A-level examinations in summer 2022 is equitable for all students, including those with limited access to online learning. (903319)

Ensuring fairness is at the core of every decision that we have made regarding exams in 2022. Together with Ofqual, we have consulted on adaptations to GCSE and A-level exams in 2022, so that they take account of the disruption to pupils’ education. The consultation on the details of those adaptations was launched on 12 July and closed on 1 August. We plan to announce decisions shortly.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State and the Minister could aim higher in their grades next year. Last year we saw U-turns, not just on teacher assessments, but on the broken algorithm. Residents and teachers in Ilford South would really like some assurances in the year ahead that instead of dithering and delaying—like almost every other decision over the last 18 months—we will actually get clarity from the Education Secretary and his team, and that they will learn from their mistakes and provide a contingency plan in case exams cannot go ahead as normal in 2022.

It is, of course, our intention that exams will go ahead in 2022. They are the fairest method of assessing young people. As I have said, we have already announced the details of adaptations to those exams to ensure that they are fair. We are also working with Ofqual, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, on contingency plans in case it does not prove possible for exams to go ahead safely or fairly, and those plans will be published shortly.[Official Report, 14 September 2021, Vol. 700, c. 7MC.]

Since the Government took over, the gap between state school and private school attainment has grown to a record degree. It is also growing at record speed. Is this the legacy that the Minister is proud of? If not, what is he going to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman ought to look at the record of the last Labour Government. The gap was narrowing throughout the years

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will tell him our record. Under this Government, the gap between the independent sector and the state sector in terms of top grades for A-levels narrowed from 2009-10 to 2018, from 27 percentage points to 21 percentage points. If we go back further and look at the proportion of three grade As and A*s attained at A-level in independent schools versus the proportion achieving those grades in state schools, the gap widened under the last Labour Government, rising by 13 percentage points between 1994 and 2009. The gap was at its maximum in 2009, at 22.1 percentage points, before steadily declining by 15.8 percentage points by 2018-19.

Given the disparity between the predicted A-level grades awarded by state and private sector schools this year, does the Minister agree that in order to create a level playing field for all students, A-level exams should be marked and grades awarded before they apply to university? Do the Government remain committed to that policy?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are committed, as a Government, to looking at post-qualification applications to university to address the very real issues that he raises.

Whether in examinations or any other element of the education system, funding is crucial. Haringey borough has lost £690,720 of its pupil premium. When are the Government going to put that right?

The pupil premium this academic year will be £2.5 billion, up from £2.4 billion last year. This Government introduced the pupil premium because we are committed to ensuring that a child’s background should not reflect their outcomes in their education.

The Institute for Government has estimated that it will take about three years for the dust around grade inflation to settle. Will my right hon. Friend tell us when the chair of Ofqual will outline a plan to tackle that; and will he please squash the ridiculous rumours about an A** or grade 10 being brought in?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I can assure him that there will be no change to the grading system for 2022 but we are looking at the longer-term issue about grading in GCSEs and A-levels.