GCSE and A-level Exams; Coronavirus – are you a worried parent?

GCSE and A-level Exams; Coronavirus – are you a worried parent?

There is understandably considerable anxiety in the minds of all parents given the present circumstances in relation to the coronavirus– especially for those whose teenagers are taking GCSE and A-level examinations this summer.

At present, it remains uncertain at as to whether the whole examination timetable will be cancelled, postponed or left the way it is. There is also the bigger issue of preparation of students, and also by students, for the exams; especially given that, in most cases, the full content of the specifications has not been covered. It is only after the full content has been  covered that proper and in-depth revision can begin to take place, as many exam questions touch on several parts of the specification and are not just topic based.

Almost every school is making some preparation to provide some form of teaching online, via some sort of video link. The use of technology to solve problems during this time is something that should be taken very seriously and is an urgent need that we ought to embrace. Indeed, there are not many alternatives at present, except to carelessly ignore the threat that the coronavirus poses to society.


Technology – a blessing and a curse!

Whilst technology has come to the rescue and we must explore it to the fullest, taking into consideration  the fact that schools are looking at teaching the full daily timetable online, there is a big question mark hanging over the likeliness of  the success and effectiveness of such an approach, for two reasons:

  1. It is already so close to the exams that no matter how effective the use of remote teaching proves, there will still be considerable disruption, not least psychologically, in the minds of the students. This is mainly because they will be using an unfamiliar system when they face the first major test of their academic lives
  2. People use the internet and computers in a very unproductive way, as most people allow themselves to be distracted whilst using their computer to do serious work that demands a high level of concentration and focus. Incoming messages and other distractions in the home environment are a great challenge

There is no guarantee that teenagers will change their behaviour and stay on task when they are learning online for such a prolonged period of time.

The bigger picture of cancellation of exams

Cancelling or delaying exams  would have a knock-on effect regarding university placements, so this is another reason why such a measure may not be taken.  In the event of school closures, contingency plans are being drawn up to allow students to still sit their exams, although, as yet, exact details remain unclear.

It must be said that it is extremely unlikely that the GCSE exams will be cancelled, or even postponed, as both options have serious ramifications. In the event they are cancelled, what is likely to happen is that students will be awarded an estimated grade in each of the subjects, a situation that many will consider to be hugely unjust. There is a very strong case for disagreeing with cancelation as many students accelerate their performance in the months and weeks leading up to the summer examinations. For those students who may have sped up their potential performance at the last minute, an estimation of grades, based on teachers’ recommendations, is unlikely to take into account such 11th hour improvements. In my view, the issue of massive disruption that result to examinations and qualifications, is the third most serious concern, superseded only by the notion of loved ones being seriously ill or dying and of an economic slowdown or decline. There is no easy way out of this situation for the young people, their parents and the government. It is unfortunate that the coronavirus situation has added to the already existing anxiety as young people face their summer examinations. The worry is that it is more likely to get worse than get better. All we can do is to work hard at minimising the damage that will be done.

Can the GCSE and A-level exam be brought forward by just one month?

I would actually suggest that the GCSE and A-level exams are brought forward; if  the exams began within the next month, this would  allow them to be over before the peak of the exam period. Of course, if this were to be the case, marking would have to take into account the fact that the specification was not fully completed before the exam was sat. I understand the potential issues, this could create, but I think the idea of moving the exams to the autumn would create more disruption than bringing them forward. I believe one month is sufficient to prepare for the exams and then the marking and grading of the exams would take into account all the issues surrounding the special measures under which this year's exams are administered. The idea of bringing the exams forward would be a very controversial issue, but I think it is one that ought to be considered.

A negative force of nature – the coronavirus

The coronavirus is a negative force of nature and it is utterly ridiculous to try and blame it on any person, country or organisation. As in any situation, some, and I avoid using the word victims, will emerge more successfully than others. To be truthful, there is no winner in this, but some will respond to the situation better than others and those who come out of it with less detrimental effect can, I suppose, be called winners! Those who want to politicise it will say globalisation is to blame. What they forget is that, whilst globalisation can rapidly spread diseases, it can also spread knowledge and cure. As a parent with a child who is doing a major exam this summer, all one can do is to try and minimise the potential damage of the virus to the teenager’s future prospects.

You’ve still got to paddle your own canoe!

It is foolish to leave everything to the government and the experts to sort out. Whilst I strongly agree that one ought to take the opinion of   experts into account when making decisions, we live in a world where there is a huge amount of information available at our fingertips. From experience, we have learnt that, when faced with crisis of this magnitude, it is usually up to the individual person or family to make critical decisions. Of course, we ought to recognise the opinions and recommendations of large institutions such as the government and other expert bodies such as the BMA and WHO, etc. But  I would like to draw an analogy between the current coronavirus situation and trying to paddle a canoe across a wide sea  in very turbulent waters. The government and experts provide the navigation equipment and radar and so on to help us navigate and, perhaps, row safely; however, success ultimately depends on the ability of the individual family or person to read and interpret  the navigation gadget and row safely to a safe shore.

Midway between large gathering and isolation

It is a balancing act between trying to prevent young people from transmitting the coronavirus and also doing something that is effective in preparing them for their GCSE and A-level examinations.

One possible midway compromise is small-group teaching, whereby students are taught in smaller groups. This reduces the risk associated with a large classroom environment, although it is  not as safe as remote teaching online. In fact, irrespective of coronavirus or no coronavirus, research has suggested that small group teaching is, on the whole, even more effective in improving performance than one-to-one or large classroom teaching. As previously mentioned, each family will have to decide what is best for the individual child in both getting the result they want and also doing whatever will help the teenager to pass their GCSE and A-level exams this summer.

Coronavirus – how can Excel in Key Subjects help?

Below are some of the features of Excel in Key Subjects regarding how it operates its Saturday classes and intensive revision during school holidays. Some of these features make our operation less risky in comparison to the traditional, larger classroom sizes

  • Teaching in groups of five to six students – with the largest number being eight students in a group
  • Gatherings during lunchtime usually have a maximum of 15 people congregating in an area
  • Material that is covered focuses on the key aspects of each student’s specification and teaching of the content is followed by exam question practice in every session
  • Because of the coronavirus, for vulnerable young people, or due to parental concern or the fact that a member of their family is of a higher risk, we have been providing resources by sending work home to students. We expect the students to do the work and submit it for marking and feedback by our teachers.
  • We have been working on a contingency plan in the unlikely event that we have to shut down classes. This will be aimed at delivering lessons online via a video link and getting students to do assignments and submit them for marking and feedback
  • Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, all recommendations by Public Health England are monitored and observed.

The case for a small school

We see a case  whereby a small school, with fewer than say eight  or so students per class, may continuing to operate even if the government recommends the closure of schools; unless it says that all schools – including smaller ones, should close. In the event of school closures being recommended, one will need to seek clarity as to whether  it is a blanket closure or if there is a case for small schools carrying on. The wellbeing of students and their families, teaching staff and admin staff, and, finally, the wider public must dictate what happens.


More information about the case for small group teaching.

Quoting reference from a previous blog post

“As published in the TES (Times Educational Supplement) of 23rd June, 2017, research conducted by Steve Higgins – a professor of education at Durham University – for the Sutton Trust, shows that students gain an extra five months of learning as a result of one-to-one tutoring. However, the results are mixed and it was also reported that small-group teaching, consisting of two or three students, is more effective than one-to-one teaching.”


To find out more about the benefit of small group teaching you can try to locate the TES (Times Educational Supplement) of 23rd June, 2017.