GCSEs and A-levels likely to be cancelled in UAE as UK warns of prolonged lockdown

Thousands of pupils in the Emirates face a second year of uncertainty

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UAE school principals expect GCSE and A-level exams to be cancelled again this year after the UK entered its third national lockdown on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the measure, which will last into mid-February, includes a return to remote learning for primary schools, secondary schools and colleges. He also said exams would need to be reconsidered.

“We recognise that this will mean it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal. The education secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements,” Mr Johnson said.

Prior to the announcement, headteachers in the UK said final exams were in peril because schools could not reopen.

A change or cancellation of the tests, sat at ages 16 and 18 respectively, would have repercussions across the globe, because British-curriculum schools follow the UK line.

It means thousands of pupils in the Emirates could face school-assessed grades for a second year.

Principals here have now urged UK authorities to make a quick decision to prevent a repeat of last year’s uncertainty.

It is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal

Britain UK is battling a lethal coronavirus spike after a new variant of the virus was detected in the country.

School principals in the UAE said they needed clarity on how pupils would be assessed if exams were cancelled.
"The exams will not be the same and boards will come up with an alternative arrangement," said Ms Fiona Cottam, principal of Hartland International School in Dubai.
"We don't know if they will review the content or ask for predicted grades.

“Last year they began taking these decisions in April, and it’s only January.

“This year, they have more time to organise, plan, and make alternative provisions.”

Ms Cottam said pupils in some British schools in the UAE, including Hartland International School in Dubai, will sit two mock exams in case exams are cancelled in 2021.

She said she hoped authorities would consult teachers and find a better way forward than they did last year if exams were to be cancelled.

Fiona Cottam said the school would hold mock exams to help pupils prepare for all eventualities. Courtesy: Hartland International School

Brendon Fulton, principal at Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, said he was highly sceptical that GCSE and A-level exams would go ahead in the UAE.

“There is a strong possibility that the [English] government will follow the lead of the Scottish and Welsh exam boards by cancelling the exams and relying on school-assessed grades as they did last year.

“The early announcement by the Scottish and Welsh exam boards would have been welcome by schools.

“British schools, however, are left in the same position as last year, with late information on decisions that make planning quite difficult.”

There are 302,000 pupils at the UAE’s British-curriculum schools, according to ISC Research, a provider of educational data. This means thousands of pupils will be affected.

At the Dubai British School group, 120 pupils are set to sit GCSEs while 60 are waiting to sit their A-levels.

Schools had already prepared for the possibility that exams would be cancelled by conducting rigorous internal assessments and pre-empting course work requirements across all subjects.

Mr Fulton said because of the chaos caused by coronavirus – with many in the UK unable to access education – an early decision on cancelling exams would be better.

“I don’t believe that the formal exam process can offer a level playing field for all students,” Mr Fulton said.

“The right thing to do would be to make an early announcement on the cancellation of exams and allow the exam boards to support schools in preparing school-assessed grades.”

In Scotland in October and Wales in November cancelled exams for 2021 and replaced them with assessment.

Mark Leppard, headmaster at British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi, wrote to UK education secretary, Gavin Williamson regarding the issue, prior to the announcement on Monday.

All pupils should have the equal opportunity for success. Some pupils have had distance learning while others had in-person classes in the UK,” said Mr Leppard. “If you are not able to access teachers it cannot be an equal footing.”

He said he received a reply stating the government was looking into the matter.

Mr Leppard said the vaccines may help things return to normality but getting it everyone might take time.

He hoped things would be more organised than last year when it came to A-levels as pupils depended on the grades for university spots.

“My advice to pupils is to focus on the here and now. Do the best with what is in front of you so the school will have rich data showing your performance.”

Shanessa Fernandes, a Year 13 pupil at Gems Metropole School in Dubai, said she was aware exams could be cancelled any day but had learnt to cope.

“We understand how it works and we have evidence so exam being cancelled is not necessarily a scary thing,” said the Indian pupil, 17.

“I would not worry about university spots as I have good grades."