GCSE maths and science pupils in England to get Covid exam aids this summer

Enhanced formulae and equation sheets will be provided to students (David Davies/PA)
Enhanced formulae and equation sheets will be provided to students (David Davies/PA)

Exam aids to limit the impact of Covid-19 on learning are set to be given to GCSE pupils taking their maths and science exams this summer.

The Department for Education (DfE) has asked the exams regulator Ofqual to provide formulae for GCSE mathematics and equations for GCSE physics and combined science in 2024, as was the case last year.

Teaching unions welcomed the move, but one said it has come too late as schools are almost a full term into teaching.

Earlier this year, former schools minister Nick Gibb, who resigned from the role on Monday during Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet reshuffle, said there was an “expectation” support would not be offered in the summer.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said on Thursday: “Young people taking GCSEs next year will be the last who experienced two years of national closures during secondary school, and it’s right that we recognise that with some additional support.

“GCSEs are young people’s passport to their next stage of education and we must ensure students have the opportunity to show what they know and can do, and ultimately meet their potential.”

Most students due to sit exams in 2024 were in Year 7 when schools closed following the national lockdown.

Ofqual said the proposal is being consulted on, with exams due to be entirely back to normal in 2025.

Sarah Hannafin, head of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “For students to identify the right formula to use, apply it to the information given and work out an answer is a valid assessment of their knowledge and understanding. There is no need for an additional test of memory.

“We welcome this decision by Government and the short consultation, but it is disappointing that this decision has been made so late on, almost a full term into teaching, and when many year 11 students will have their mock exams in December and schools need to know whether to allow the use of formulae and equation sheets in the mocks or not.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, argued that students should be given the materials “on a permanent basis”.

He added: “This reflects our view that exams should not be memory tests but a way of seeing how well students apply their knowledge.

“This would reduce some of the stress of exam preparation and ensure students can focus on core knowledge and skills like problem solving and critical thinking, which employers say they most value.”

In both Wales and Northern Ireland, exam regulators previously said they do not plan to return to pre-pandemic grading until 2024.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has said it plans to take “a sensitive approach” to grading this year to take into account the ongoing impact of the pandemic on education.