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Sat, 16 January 2021

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Government considering benchmark tests to reveal student ‘learning gaps’ amid calls to delay summer exams

Government considering benchmark tests to reveal student ‘learning gaps’ amid calls to delay summer exams

Labour has called on the Government to delay the summer exam season to allow students to catch up (

2 min read

The Education Secretary has suggested that students could undergo "benchmarking" assessments to understand the effects of school closures on their education.

Gavin Williamson told MPs that his department wanted “a clear understanding” of where there were “learning gaps” among pupils in order to inform policy for the upcoming year. 

His comments came after Labour called for the 2021 summer exam season to be pushed back from May to mid-summer to help children catch up.

Mr Williamson made the suggestion in response to a question from education select committee chair Robert Halfon, who pointed out that “millions of children have not been learning during the lockdown”.

He asked: “Does my Right Honourable friend agree that the way forward should be an urgent assessment or benchmarking made of all children in school with data collected by the Department for Education and regulators, so as to inform the government's decision as to when the exams are to take place next year?”

Mr Halfon told PoliticsHome last week that he was “pretty open-minded” about what form such benchmarking tests could take. 

Mr Williamson responded: “This is something we're looking at, that we'll be doing and working with... right across the sector to ensure there's a clear understanding of where some of the learning gaps that children have, in order for us to best deal with it.

“But it’ll also be absolutely vital in terms of informing policy for the upcoming year ahead.”

Elsewhere in his statement, the Education Secretary said the Government was “determined” that next years exams would go ahead as planned and “as smoothly as possible”.

And he told the Commons how “deeply sorry” he was for the “stress and uncertainty” caused by the problems with A-Level and GCSE results last month.

But Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green accused him of overseeing a "summer of chaos, incompetence and confusion that has caused enormous stress to children, young people, their families, and their teachers”.

She continued: “Ministers must now learn from their mistakes and ensure that keeping schools open and pupils learning is a national priority Labour's absolutely clear, we want children back in school, and we want them to stay there.”

Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister's spokesman said Boris Johnson wanted "full attendance" at schools when they re-opened, and confirmed fines could be levied against parents who keep their kids away. He said: "As usual fines can be used to enforce full attendance, but I think that should only be used as a last resort, when there is no valid reason for a child’s absence.”

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