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Exams and assessment

National exams and tests are cancelled in 2021: find out what this means for you and your child.


On 4 January 2021 the Prime Minister announced that A-level and GCSE exams would not go ahead in 2021. 

In a speech to MPs on 6 January, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that he wished “to use a form of teacher-assessed grades with training and support provided to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently across the country.”  

The NEU is willing to work with the Government and the exams regulator Ofqual to get the fairest possible outcome for students across all types of qualifications – GCSEs, A-levels, BTECs and others. 

The Government is jointly consulting with Ofqual on how to award the grades: the deadline for responses is Friday 29 January. Government has said they aim to make final decisions and announcements as soon as possible after that. 

Further information

GCSE, AS and A-level consultation document with proposals 

Respond to the GCSE, AS and A-Level consultation 

Vocational and Technical Qualifications consultation document with proposals 

Respond to the Vocational and Technical Qualifications consultation


The Government has cancelled statutory assessment in primary schools in 2021. That means no SATs in Year 2 or Year 6 and no Phonics check in Year 1. The fact that formal tests are not going ahead does not mean, however, that your child’s teachers will not be assessing their progress, using this to inform next steps or giving you updates on how they are doing.

The National Education Union thinks it was right to cancel Government primary tests this year, since all children have seen their education disrupted and have missed different amounts of time in school. In these circumstances, there is no way the tests – or the results – would be fair.

We remain concerned that the Government plans that next year (2021/22) there will be more tests than ever in primary schools. It is proposed that a new Baseline test of four-year-olds will become compulsory. Year 1 children will take a Phonics test and there’s a strong chance that Year 2 children will be Phonics-checked as well. SATs will return for seven and 11-year-olds. And there’ll be a statutory times table test in Year 4. 

The government has always made clear that the purpose of this kind of assessment is not to support learning but to measure schools against one another. Like many educators and parents, the NEU does not think this system is good for children and their learning. It gives rise to stress and it puts pressure on teachers to ‘teach to the test’, at the expense of a broad curriculum.

Pupils have had a difficult 12 months, and in many cases their learning has suffered. The last thing they need is to return to schools where Government policy means educators lack the freedom to support pupils during the pandemic, because of the pressure to prepare for tests. Through the More than a Score campaign the NEU has joined many other organisations in calling for an end to our present system of assessment and for a new approach. 


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