Headteachers call for GCSE and A-Level exams to be scrapped this summer amid school closure chaos

  • Most primary schools in England are expected to re-open their doors tomorrow 
  • Secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis later this month with testing
  • UK’s largest teaching union advised members it’s not safe to return to classroom
  • And UK head teachers are calling for this year’s exams to be scrapped

Head teachers are calling on the Government to scrap this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams amid outrage over Gavin Williamson’s plans to keep schools open.

Most primaries in England are expected to re-open their doors tomorrow, while secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis later this month with plans to test every student weekly. 

Yesterday, however, the UK’s largest teaching union advised members it was not safe to return to the classroom – with several left-wing councils demanding their primary schools move to online teaching only. 

And in another blow to the Education Secretary’s plans, UK head teachers are now calling for this year’s exams to be scrapped to prioritise ‘wider public health, pupil and staff safety’. 

They also claim it would be unfair to force students to sit exams when those whose schools were open earlier would have more contact time than those with later start dates.

Head teachers are calling on the Government to scrap this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams amid outrage over Gavin Williamson’s plans to keep schools open (file image)

The WorthLess? campaign group – a collection of 2,000 head teachers in 80 local authorities –  said: ‘Wider public health, pupil and staff safety should be prioritised ahead of examinations.

‘Public safety should not be risked or driven by an inflexible pursuit of GCSE and A-levels.’ 

Head teacher of Tanbridge House School in Horsham – and one of the WorthLess? leaders – told The Times: ‘There is great scepticism that exams can now go ahead fairly.’

Their statements come after Brighton and Hove City Council followed eight authorities in London in demanding primaries teach remotely amid rising Covid cases.

CLASS WAR: The Government is keen to get children back to schools however, left-wing councils have joined revolt against Government plans as UK’s largest teaching union advised members it was not safe to return

The National Education Union, which has 450,000 members, said the Government was ‘failing to protect children, their families and our communities’, adding that their members had a legal right to refuse to work.

The move has put them on a collision course with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who said it was imperative that the nation’s children were back in class to stop them falling behind. 

Writing in The Mail on Sunday, the father-of-two has urged teachers and parents to ‘move heaven and earth’, adding the young must not ‘bear the heaviest cost’ of the pandemic.

He said: ‘Both of my daughters, one of whom is in an exam year, have had to self-isolate. I know how difficult the last year has been, because I have seen them miss being in the classroom, where they want to be. So I want my children, and all children, to be able to get back to school and stay in class – we will continue to prioritise making this happen where we can.’

The start of the new academic term has been mired in confusion as Covid rates continue to rise, driven by the new variant.

Recent notes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) revealed scientists have warned that schools may need to be closed to bring down transmission.

But Children’s Minister Vicky Ford yesterday told MPs there was no evidence that the new strain caused more serious illness in either adults or children.

Senior Government sources said that Mr Williamson had tried to keep schools open but has been overruled by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Michael Gove.

The pair have pushed for tighter measures until more people have been vaccinated, but critics accused them of ‘natural authoritarianism’.

The National Education Union tweeted earlier today: ‘Our Executive is meeting this morning and we will announce new guidance shortly afterwards’

A tweet from the National Education Union today, saying: ‘We have thousands of reps from all the country on our briefing right now. We must #MakeSchoolsSafe to #ProtectCommunities’

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford yesterday told MPs there was no evidence that the new strain caused more serious illness in either adults or children 

Last week, Mr Williamson announced all primaries would return on Monday. Ten London boroughs were told to open their schools but after a revolt by eight Labour-led councils, Mr Williamson was forced into a U-turn. Now all schools in the capital will operate remote learning for the first two weeks.

The rebellion was led initially by Haringey, once dubbed the first ‘Corbyn council’ because of its large number of Left-wing Momentum councillors. Council leader Joseph Ejiofor said he would back head teachers who wanted to defy the Government and he was later followed by Harrow Council.

Brighton and Hove has now advised all primary schools to teach remotely until January 18.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, has accused the Left of politicising the issue saying: ‘This is about knocking the Tories. Keeping schools open should be non-negotiable.’ More than one million four to 11-year-olds will now start the academic term with lessons online.

In advising members to work from home, Dr Mary Bousted, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said: ‘If Government does not act to follow the science, we must.’

Her views were echoed by the NASUWT union.

Ministers are considering proposals to make teachers a higher priority in the vaccine roll-out as a way to keep physical classrooms open.

Plans for schools reopening differ across the four nations of the UK.In Scotland, most pupils will have online learning for the week of January 11. In Wales, schools are expected to provide face-to-face learning for the majority of their pupils by January 11.

And in Northern Ireland, secondary school years eight to 11 will be taught via remote learning throughout January while primary pupils will return to the classroom on January 11. 

Social distancing signs displayed at Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, London, today as Covid cases across the capital city have been putting rising pressure on the NHS

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