School leaders and education experts have warned that making exam board materials publicly available to students after the Easter holidays could “embed disadvantage” and benefit more privileged students.
Exam boards will provide schools with optional assessment questions at the end of March so they can prepare how to test their students.
The questions are being provided to help teachers determine which grades to award after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.
But during a webinar led by the Department for Education (DfE), Ofqual and DfE officials confirmed that the assessment materials will also be published publicly online after Easter – which will allow students to access them.
The move to release the questions openly has been called a “car crash”.
Stuart Lock, chief executive of Advantage Schools in Bedford, said on Twitter: “If you wanted to design a system that benefits those who already have advantages from birth, you’d start by cancelling exams and end by showing candidates the assessments they will take.
“I don’t know many people, but I’ve spoken to people at (largely low levels) the DfE, two exam boards, Ofqual and Ofsted and none of them want to exacerbate the gap, so how has this happened?
“They’ve basically managed to maximally benefit those who are privileged.”
Meanwhile, the Mathematical Association tweeted: “Seems probable that the decision to release these exam board materials openly after Easter will embed disadvantage.
“Those students with most support at home will be provided with full worked solutions to memorise.”
Sam Freedman, a former senior adviser at the DfE, added that the whole thing was a “car crash”.
This year, teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining pupils’ grades – including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions provided by exam boards.
But these optional assessments are not expected to be carried out in exam conditions and schools will have the flexibility to choose when they take place.
In Ofqual’s joint consultation with the DfE, 66% of respondents agreed that exam boards should publish all their papers shortly before the assessments to manage the risk of students being advantaged by papers being leaked.
Last month, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted grades decided by teachers will be fair amid concerns that the plan will result in grade inflation.
Mr Williamson defended allowing teachers to decide students’ grades as he insisted exam boards would carry out checks to “root out malpractice”.
An Ofqual spokesman said: “We have decided that the materials should be published in this way because, once they have been made available to teachers it will not be possible to stop them being leaked, particularly once they start to be used.
“Some students would then have early access to the materials – giving them an unfair advantage while disadvantaging others.
“A wide range of questions will be made available by exam boards so while students will have access to them all in advance, they will not know which ones if any (as the use of exam board materials is optional) their school or college will use.”