The Cabinet Office minister says alternative assessments are being drawn up as exams are cancelled.

image captionCabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the replacement for exams needed to be “as fair as possible”
The government closed schools in England with “the heaviest of hearts”, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said, as he confirmed this year’s GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled.
He said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would make a statement about alternative assessments on Wednesday.
Ministers want to ensure grades are as “fair as possible”, Mr Gove said.
He said the decision was made after the UK’s chief medical officers recommended a move to Covid threat level five.
One head teacher, Neil Strowger from Bohunt School in Hampshire, said he was “bitterly disappointed and quite upset” for students who have suffered so much disruption this year and “fearful” about what it would mean for them.
And, despite the government saying vocational exams such as Btec should go ahead, with some scheduled for this week, the Association of School and College Leaders said that seemed “pretty impossible”.
media captionGove:” With a heavy heart but with clear evidence we had to act.”
The step to close schools was taken “very, very reluctantly” because the children who suffer most are those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have less access to online learning, Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
On Sunday Boris Johnson said there was “no doubt in my mind that schools are safe” and urged parents to send their children to primary schools if they were open.
But when he announced the latest lockdown on Monday the prime minister said “schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households”.
Mr Gove said the “clear advice” to move to the highest level of Covid alert – level five – came only on Monday, after some primary schools had already returned from the Christmas break.
Mr Gove – whose daughter is in her A-level year and whose son in studying GCSEs – said he shared the concerns of parents and head teachers about the impact of cancelling exams.
He said the Department for Education was in talks with Ofqual to find the “the best and most effective way” to assess students, after widespread protests over grades awarded by algorithm last summer.
“What we want to make sure is that the method of assessment is as fair as possible and takes into account the effect that disruption has had,” Mr Gove said.
By Hannah Richardson, BBC News education reporter
It was the step the government said it would never take – closing schools again in England to all but a small number of children.
Again and again we were told education was the priority and schools would remain fully open.
The Department for Education stood firm against a crescendo of calls for a circuit-breaker during the October half-term, then against an early holiday in December.
Self-isolating teachers were going to extraordinary lengths to teach remotely from home, while heads created one-way systems, sanitiser stations and installed temperature scanners in school receptions.
But the attendance figures were showing week after week how the virus was impacting on pupils’ ability to show up.
For a while, mass testing of pupils seemed to be the answer, but the short time available for head teachers to set this up made it a non-starter.
In the end it was the pressure on the NHS, caused by the new, more contagious variant of coronavirus, which sounded the closing bell for schools.
To shut them was the only lever government had left to pull to try to turn the tanker as a new tide of Covid cases began sweeping the nation.
The replacement for exams would “necessarily” involve students doing tasks which would be assessed by their teachers, Mr Gove said, but he added that deciding how to moderate the grades to ensure consistency across the country was a “delicate process”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told BBC Breakfast he doubted vocational exams could go ahead this week as the government intends.
He said students listening to the prime minister’s speech would not have known vocational exams were continuing and “there might be lots of young people therefore who are assuming they should be following the advice and not going to college”.
Mr Barton said: “It feels to me pretty impossible that you could be running those exams this week even though we would have wanted them to run, because you are just going to increase the unfairness of some young people being there, some not being there.”
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said that remote learning and time out of school had a “very negative impact” for children, and called on the government to ensure consistency in remote learning and access to technology.
She said: “A lot of pupils still don’t have laptops. They are surviving on broken phones – those children now need to be seen as a priority to get into the classroom and deemed to be a vulnerable child.”
Technology companies and broadband providers needed to “step up” and address the cost of data for remote learning, which was another obstacle for some families, Ms Longfield said.
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