Ofqual exploring online tests for 2021 to beat Covid disruption


Pupils could take online exams in 2021 should the coronavirus pandemic cause more disruption to the education system, as Ofqual explores contingency options.

The exams regulator was quizzed by the education select committee on whether there could be a potential plan B for pupils should they be unable to sit exams as usual.

Ofqual has said that exams will take place, although the format they take could be different if the situation next year requires it to be.

The regulator’s chair, Roger Taylor, described the need for a fair and comparative test for pupils as “absolutely essential”, adding that they require a “level playing field to demonstrate their skills and knowledge” so they can influence their futures.

He was asked about the prospect of further lockdowns in 2021 and explained that there are measures that could be used, including online testing.

“We feel we have enough time to come up with a solution to that problem,” he added.

Mr Taylor also told MPs that using algorithms for predicted grades, in a similar vein to those awarded in 2020, is highly unlikely.

He pointed to the lack of a “suitable mechanism” for dealing with such highly variable data without discriminating between students after pupils and parents raised concerns in the wake of results being awarded this summer.

The prospect of delaying exams has also been mooted, and while it is certainly being considered, Ofqual’s executive director for general qualifications, Julie Swan, has said it is not a decision the regulator can make alone.

However, she added that a report into exams in 2021 will be published and shared with the Department for Education in a matter of weeks, rather than months, in a bid to provide some certainty for schools.

The prospect of online exams was met with concern by Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

“This sounds very difficult to manage at any scale,” he said, adding that having a contingency plan featuring spring or autumn assessments could be better used to inform grades should students be unable to sit exams.