I contributed to today's opposition debate on the Role of Ministers in the awarding of qualifications this summer where I highlighted that exams should be held at the beginning of summer, content should reflect the amount of time spent in the classroom, and schools are safe. I also commented that the distance some people have to travel to receive Covid tests needs to be resolved.
"I, too, thank all the school leaders in my constituency, who have worked so hard to ensure not only that the pupils receive the exam grades they deserve, but that the schools have reopened. I pay great tribute to their leadership. I also wish to thank the ministerial team, who have always afforded me a great deal of time in dealing with the questions and concerns I have raised. They have always been very open, on a cross-party basis; a month ago, I joined a call that all colleagues were encouraged to attend, and at that point we did not see the issues that were forthcoming—we can all be experts in hindsight.
I also wish to put on record the fact that I do not believe that the Department’s time and Ministers’ time is best spent at the photocopier delivering documents about the past; it is best spent fixing matters for the future—for the next cohort who are about to take their exams. With that in mind, I call for three points to be considered by the ministerial team. I am keen that we be unequivocal that the exams will be held at their scheduled time at the beginning of summer and will not be pushed back, as the teachers I speak to do not believe that that will work for them, or for pupils or universities. I know, as this was almost to my cost, that exam grades, rather than teacher assessments, can sometimes give people the opportunity in life, because they can turn out better than the assessment that teachers have made. That is particularly the case for pupils from schools that are perhaps not as highly performing; my own example sees me here as a result of exams, rather than teacher-predicted grades.
Secondly, we have to make sure we get the content right for this year’s exam takers. I still believe that we have not reduced the content commensurately to the amount of time that can be fitted in. The exam boards need to work closely to guide teachers as to what content will be needed in order for those exams to be focused, and they need to work with universities to ensure that where degree courses rely on A-levels to get the young pupils through, the focus is on the right amount of A-level content to ensure that pupils get the right start in that course at university. This requires the schools to work with the exam boards, and the boards to work with the universities to ensure that the content is correct and is proportionate in respect of the amount of time young people have missed, so that they are not penalised.
We need to send out a message to all parents that schools are safe. As the Secretary of State knows, we have various views on face masks, but the most important point is that schools are open, they are safe and they are places where young people can learn and thrive. They should all be there, and parents need to heed that message too. I echo the point that has been made about testing. People are having to travel far too far to get testing, and that will hold schools back. Those are the points I wish to make."