Guidance: what schools and colleges should do if exams or other assessments are seriously disrupted

This joint contingency plan is in place to deal with any major disruption that may affect exam candidates.

What schools and colleges and other centres should do if exams or other assessments are seriously disrupted 

Updated 6 October 2021    

We have updated this document on 6 October 2021 to include links to Covid 19 related contingency, health and support pages published by the Department for Education, Welsh Government and government in Northern Ireland. We have not however, updated this document in other ways as the overall ethos still applies. You will need to make sure you are aware of your specific responsibilities for local and national school preparations and contingencies and advice from relevant public health bodies.  

1.  Contingency planning 

You should prepare for possible disruption to exams and other assessments and make sure staff are aware of these plans. 

When drafting contingency plans, you should consider the following guidance which is updated on a rolling basis:

1.1 Covid specific guidance: 

1.2 General contingency guidance  

2.  Disruption to assessments or exams 

In the absence of any instruction from the relevant awarding organisation, you should make sure that any exam or timetabled assessment takes place if it is possible to hold it. This may mean relocating to alternative premises. 

You should discuss alternative arrangements with your awarding organisation if: 

  • the exam or assessment cannot take place 
  • a student misses an exam or loses their assessment due to an emergency, or other event, outside of the student’s control 

See also: 

3.  Steps you should take 

3.1  Exam planning 

Review contingency plans well in advance of each exam or assessment series. Consider how, if the contingency plan is invoked, you will comply with the awarding organisation’s requirements. 

3.2  In the event of disruption 

  1. Contact the relevant awarding organisation and follow its instructions. 
  2. Take advice, or follow instructions, from relevant local or national agencies in deciding whether your centre is able to open. 
  3. Identify whether the exam or timetabled assessment can be sat at an alternative venue, in agreement with the relevant awarding organisation, ensuring the secure transportation of questions papers or assessment materials to the alternative venue. 
  4. Where accommodation is limited, prioritise students whose progression will be severely delayed if they do not take their exam or timetabled assessment when planned. 
  5. In the event of an evacuation during an examination please refer to JCQ’s ‘Centre emergency evacuation procedure’. 
  6. Communicate with parents, carers and students any changes to the exam or assessment timetable or to the venue. 
  7. Communicate with any external assessors or relevant third parties regarding any changes to the exam or assessment timetable. 

3.3  After the exam 

  1. Consider whether any students’ ability to take the assessment or demonstrate their level of attainment has been materially affected and, if so, apply for special consideration. 
  2. Advise students, where appropriate, of the opportunities to take their exam or assessment at a later date. 
  3. Ensure that scripts are stored under secure conditions. 
  4. Return scripts to awarding organisations in line with their instructions. Never make alternative arrangements for the transportation of completed exam scripts, unless told to do so by the awarding organisation. 

4. Steps the awarding organisation should take 

4.1  Exam planning 

  1. Establish and maintain, and at all times comply with, an up-to-date, written contingency plan. 
  2. Ensure that the arrangements in place with centres and other third parties enable them to deliver and award qualifications in accordance with their conditions of recognition. 

4.2  In the event of disruption 

  1. Take all reasonable steps to mitigate any adverse effect, in relation to their qualifications, arising from any disruption. 
  2. Provide effective guidance to any of their centres delivering qualifications. 
  3. Ensure that where an assessment must be completed under specified conditions, students complete the assessment under those conditions (other than where any reasonable adjustments or special considerations require alternative conditions). 
  4. Promptly notify the relevant regulators about any event which could have an adverse effect on students, standards or public confidence. 
  5. Coordinate its communications with the relevant regulators where the disruption has an impact on multiple centres or a wide range of learners. 

4.3  After the exam 

Consider any requests for special consideration for affected students. For example, those who may have lost their internally assessed work or whose performance in assessments or exams could have been affected by the disruption. 

5.  If any students miss an exam or are disadvantaged by the disruption 

If some of the students have been adversely affected by the disruption, you should ask the awarding organisation about applying for special consideration. 

Decisions about special consideration, when it is or is not appropriate, is for each awarding organisation to make. Their decisions might be different for different qualifications and for different subjects. 

See also: 

6.  Wider communications 

The regulators,  Ofqual  in England,  Qualifications Wales  in Wales and  CCEA  in Northern Ireland, will share timely and accurate information, as required, with awarding organisations, government departments and other stakeholders. 

The  Department for Education  in England, th e Department of Education  in Northern Ireland and the  Welsh Government  will inform the relevant government ministers as soon as it becomes apparent that there will be significant local or national disruption; and ensure that they are kept updated until the matter is resolved. 

Awarding organisations will alert the  Universities and Colleges Admissions Service  (UCAS) and the  Central Applications Office  (CAO) about any impact of the disruption on their deadlines and liaise regarding student progression to further and higher education. 

Awarding organisations will alert relevant professional bodies or employer groups if the impact of disruption particularly affects them. 

7.  Widespread national disruption to the taking of examinations / assessments  

The governments’ view across England, Wales and Northern Ireland is education should continue in 2021/22 with schools remaining open and that examinations and assessments will go ahead in both autumn 2021 and summer 2022.

As education is devolved, in the event of any widespread sustained national disruption to examinations or assessments, national government departments will communicate with regulators, awarding organisations and centres prior to a public announcement. Regulators will provide advice to government departments on implications for exam timetables.   

We will update this page with any further relevant links as necessary should national disruption occur.