96% of NI post-primary parents are concerned about their children’s readiness for exams next year


A Parentkind poll has highlighted an urgent need for clarity over the arrangements for exams in 2021.

The vast majority of parents are concerned about the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on their child’s preparedness for exams. They also say that their child's mental health is negatively affected by the lack of clarity about how exams will be held, a Parentkind snap poll of 289 post-primary parents has found.

Following the cancellation of summer exams in 2020 and the chaos surrounding the allocation of grades to this year’s GCSE, AS and A-level cohorts, post-primary parents have major concerns about what next year’s arrangements will look like.

Our latest poll found that more than nine out of ten (96%) post-primary parents are concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their child's preparedness for exams, out of which more than three quarters (77%) are 'very' concerned. The missed learning, continuing Covid-19 restrictions and the lack of clarity from exam boards about next year's arrangements are combining to manifest a mental health crisis. 87% of parents say that the uncertainty over exam arrangements is having a negative impact on their child's psychological well-being.

The poll also found that only 1% of parents favoured "Exams based on the full curriculum" as their preferred option for how exam grades should be awarded next year. This shows that the vast majority of parents are expecting the 2021 arrangements to make adjustments to take missed learning due to school closures and periods of teacher or pupil self-isolation into account. The top preferred choice by some distance (selected by 38% of parents) was "Teacher assessment (without external moderation)", revealing the confidence many parents have in the ability of their children’s teachers to judge their abilities. "Teacher assessment (with external moderation)" (18%) and "A combination of exams plus teacher assessment (without external moderation)" (15%) rounded out parents' top three preferred methods, showing a strong parental preference for some teacher involvement in the allocation of final grades. 

NI parents did not overall support delaying exams by a month to provide more teaching time, with more than half (58%) opposed, to 30% in favour.

Jayne Thompson, Parentkind’s Head of Northern Ireland says: “Preparing for exams is a hugely important factor for success. Feeling as ready as possible on the day can make all the difference in determining the results that can influence the course of a young person’s career. Parents and students know this, and we are already hearing worrying levels of despondency and anxiety from affected families. Continuing uncertainty is causing them stress and concern.

“Parentkind calls on policymakers and exam boards to give urgent clarity about exam arrangements for 2021 to avoid repeating the mayhem of 2020. Parents don’t have the solutions, but they are seeking answers and clear guidance from government, so that they know what to expect and are well-placed to give their child whatever support they need. Parents want to help their children, but the longer this period of limbo drags on, the less time will be available for vital exam preparation, which risks creating panic.”

Further details

Exam poll - full results inc year breakdown
Exam poll - full results inc Eng NI split

See the results for England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined

About the methodology

A short online survey, promoted to parents via social media, was active between 12 noon on 30th September and 10am on 7th October 2020. 1,501 parents with a child in secondary/post-primary school completed the survey (1,187 in England, 289 in Northern Ireland and 25 in Wales). 42% of responses were from parents with a child in Year 12, 16% from Y13 and 29% with a child in Year 14.  Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

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