Hundreds of pupils at Abu Dhabi's UK-curriculum schools sit crucial exams

Strict safety measures in place for those sitting IGCSEs and international A levels

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Latest: Abu Dhabi private school pupils to return to classrooms on Sunday

Hundreds of pupils at Abu Dhabi schools are sitting crucial pre-university exams this week while all others in the emirate study remotely.

They are taking IGCSEs and international A levels – the global equivalent of UK curriculum exams.

Regular GSCE and A-level summer tests were cancelled because of the Covid-19 crisis.

But the international versions hold several exams throughout the year and are able to continue, for now.

Gems Cambridge International School in Abu Dhabi from January 7 to 22 is holding exams for more than 300 pupils.

The safety and health of our staff and pupils is our main priority

Everyone must take Covid-19 tests and undergo passport checks to prove they have not left the country in the 10 days prior to the examinations. The Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge will also conduct spot checks.

“The safety and health of our staff and pupils is our main priority," said Kelvin Hornsby, the school's principal.

“Pupils will only be allowed into the school 10 minutes before the examinations start and can remain no longer than 20 minutes after exiting the examination area.

"There will be no socialising between pupils and the 1.5 metre distance and mask wearing will be strictly adhered to.”

Pupils will sit international A levels in chemistry, physics, drama, geography, mathematics and statistics.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Pupils seated for the Mathematic, grade 11  exam hall at Gems Cambridge International School in Baniyas. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Pupils seated for the grade 11 mathematics exam at Gems Cambridge International School in Baniyas. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Covid-19 is disrupting education for a second year. The UK government last week cancelled the exams and replaced them with teacher assessments.

The UK's decision has repercussions around 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.

Pupils sitting IGCSEs and international A levels are assessed throughout the year rather than on one major exam in the summer. This differs from the typical UK model where the main test is taken in summer.

However, pupils taking the international equivalent are also still in the dark about in-person exams for the summer.

Teachers are calling for clarity on the situation, so they can prepare.

"Our January series of examinations for international syllabus subjects have continued but there is the question of whether these may well be the last examination sitting this academic year," Mr Hornsby said.

Other schools in the emirate were also given permission to hold external exams.

Stephen Brecken, principal at the Cambridge High School in Abu Dhabi, said 21 pupils in Year 13 would sit A-level mathematics examinations this week.

On the day of the exam, pupils must undergo temperature and passport checks.

They will then be asked to go to a holding area, from where they will be taken into the exam halls.

"The pupils worked so hard and they will get the exam-hall experience. I want the system to be fair for the pupils," Mr Brecken said.

"We are waiting for guidance from the international boards [for the summer] after the UK cancelled their examinations."

Meanwhile, all pupils at Abu Dhabi’s private and public schools are studying remotely for the first two weeks of the second term starting January 3. Everyone is expected back on January 17.