UK exam board confirms summer iGCSEs and A-Levels cancelled in UAE

The decision by Cambridge International, in co-ordination with the Ministry of Education, will mean teachers will grade pupils based on coursework

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A British education board that grades thousands of high school pupils across the UAE has cancelled all summer exams.

Cambridge International confirmed that its iGCSEs and A-Level exams will not go ahead in the Emirates in June.

Instead, pupils will be graded by teachers, based on their coursework.

The board said the decision was taken after talks with the UAE's Ministry of Education and due to the risks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It followed an announcement last week from the ministry that "alternative assessment methods" were being offered to international schools.

We  will work with schools to ensure students entered for the June 2021 exam series can still receive grades using teacher assessment

"Following a directive from the Ministry of Education in the UAE, cancelling all international exams, we will work with schools to ensure students entered for the June 2021 exam series can still receive grades using teacher assessment," the exam board said in a statement to The National.

The decision provides clarity for headteachers across the country.

Some British curriculum schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi had worked under the assumption that summer exams could still go ahead, even after they were cancelled in England.

In an update last month, Cambridge, which grades schools in 160 countries, said it "continued to plan for exams to go ahead in June 2021 where it is permitted and safe".

In January, another major exam board, Oxford AQA, told all of the schools it grades in the UK and abroad that exams were off.

That caused complications – given that some private schools in UAE are graded by two boards.

Pupils can find themselves sitting a maths exam that will be marked by Cambridge International and a history exam to be marked by Oxford AQA.

If Cambridge-graded exams had gone ahead, some pupils faced sitting exams for some subjects and having their coursework being graded by teachers for others – and having a mix to submit to universities at the end.

Exam boards and universities have insisted that pupils can secure a 2021 place in higher education.

In a statement on the Ministry of Education website last week, officials said they were making alternate provisions for summer 2021 exams.

"The Ministry of Education has decided to provide alternative assessment methods for international examinations for students of private schools that apply the British curriculum and the International Baccalaureate curriculum for the academic year 2020-2021," it said.

"The ministry affirmed that this step reflects the confidence in private international schools to prepare or adopt solid evaluation methodologies that benefit from their long experience in evaluation procedures, approved in their parent systems, and to build on them in light of changing circumstances or capabilities available to them."

International exam boards face a complex situation, with different rules in many of the markets they operate in.

Last week, Cambridge said the exams that it grades in private schools in Pakistan will go ahead in May, with the approval of the government.

“We are planning to run exams in most of the 160 countries we work in, it added.

"We have put a range of extra measures in place to support schools and students, including adjustments to aspects of assessments, and exemptions from components that are difficult to run during the pandemic."

How will teacher assessed grades work?

According to the UK's Department of Education, teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades, including the optional use of questions provided by exam boards, as well as mock exams, coursework or other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests.

Pupils will be able to use these grades to apply for entry to universities. They will also be able to appeal their grades as usual.