National move to remote learning – Cancellation of GCSE & GCE examinations – Call for the government to cancel BTEC examinations

Yesterday, 4 January 2021, the devolved Governments all announced extensions of the delayed re-opening of all schools and colleges.

Scotland announced a national lockdown with all schools and colleges required to move to online learning until the end of January, Wales announced the move to online learning until 18 January, Northern Ireland will set out details of the extended period of remote learning today (Tuesday). At 8pm (4 January) the UK Government announced that all schools and colleges in England will remain closed to all but keyworker and vulnerable children for seven weeks, until February half term. Nursery schools will remain fully open.

The UK Government have announced that GCSE and A level examinations for the summer series are cancelled, but public exams and vocational assessments scheduled for January will go ahead as planned.

Scotland and Wales announced arrangements for Centre assessed and flexible assessments last year. We await announcements from Northern Ireland.

NSEAD is highly concerned that once again vocational examinations have not been fully considered. Neither the summer series of vocational assessments nor the forthcoming and imminent January assessments were mentioned by the prime minister. Indeed, the decision to continue with January assessments presents difficulties for staff and students, many of whom will be taking Art and Design BTEC assessments. With limitations on travel under the ‘stay at home’ directives this cannot be fair or even safe.

Students following vocational qualifications and Further Education settings continue to be an afterthought. We call upon the DFE and interim Head of Ofqual, Simon Lebus, to address this as a matter of urgency.

The move to close schools to all but keyworker and vulnerable pupils is an essential one – it will save lives and protect the health of those working and studying in our schools and colleges. This has been compromised for too long, with the ongoing denial of the level of risk. Yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister was still insisting that schools and colleges were completely safe, only hours later describing them as ‘vectors of transmission’. Teachers are once again organising online learning with no notice, waiting for answers about assessment arrangements for their older pupils.

We know that our members will rise to the challenge again. We do not underestimate how difficult it is to maintain learning in our subject at distance, or the impact on our members and their learners. But we know that being able to engage in art, craft and design learning is more important than ever – our members are doing everything possible to reach all pupils, many of whom do not have access to the resources and facilities that they need. Teachers, trainee teachers, lecturers, support staff and their students adapted rapidly during the first lockdown, embracing digital technology, creating and sharing resources, and finding creative solutions. 

NSEAD will continue to support our dedicated members with advice, guidance and resources. Primary teachers will soon be able to access art, craft and design lessons via the OAK Academy, created by NSEAD members, and we will continue to add to our reviewed selection of remote learning resources. We will work with Government and regulatory bodies, across all nations, to ensure that your voice is heard, and the needs of your learners are understood.