Arrangements for Public Exams 2021 - October 2020

Parents are overwhelmingly concerned about their children’s readiness for exams and the toll uncertainty is taking on their mental health.

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 has been negatively affected by the lack of clarity about how exams will be held, according to our snap poll.

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, secondary school parents have major concerns about what next year’s arrangements will look like. This is in light of the disruption to learning and the continuing restrictions to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Our latest poll found that more than nine out of ten (93%) secondary school parents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their child's preparedness for exams, out of which more than two thirds (69%) are 'very' concerned. The lack of clarity on the arrangements for exams is manifesting a mental health crisis, with 84% of parents saying that it is having a negative impact on their child's psychological well-being.

The poll also found that only 3% 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 (selected by 23% 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. "A combination of exams plus teacher assessment (with external moderation)" (18% - the top option for England) and "A combination of exams plus teacher assessment (without external moderation)" (16%) rounded out parents' top three preferred methods, showing a strong parental preference for some teacher involvement in the allocation of final grades.

Half (50%) would support delaying exams by a month to provide more teaching time, but 38% would oppose. An exception was Y13 parents, where 36% favoured a delay, but 56% were opposed. 

Kerry-Jane Packman, Parentkind’s Executive Director of Programmes, Membership & Charitable Services, 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 to give urgent clarity about exam arrangements for 2021 now to avoid repeating the mayhem of 2020. Parents don’t have the solutions to exam arrangements, 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 Northern Ireland only

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). 59% of responses were from parents with a child in Year 11 and 20% with a child in Year 13.  Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

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