What schools, colleges and other centres should do if exams or other assessments are seriously disrupted
Applies to England, Northern Ireland and Wales
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 bodies.
This document was updated in September 2023 to include Ofqual’s final decisions on resilience arrangements, and DfE’s guidance for education settings with confirmed reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).
In addition to this guidance, you will need to be aware of your specific responsibilities for local and national school preparations and contingencies. You should also follow advice from relevant public health bodies.
Awarding bodies are required to establish, maintain and comply with an up-to-date detailed written contingency plan, to mitigate any incident they have identified may occur. This includes having communication plans for external parties (Ofqual General Condition of Recognition A6). Schools and colleges should also be prepared for possible disruption to exams and assessments and make sure staff are aware of these plans.
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
You should also be aware of JCQ’s notice to centres on exam contingency plans and JCQ’s notice on preparing for disruption to examinations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for qualifications within its scope.
Steps you should take
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.
Schools, colleges and other exam centres must speak to the relevant awarding organisations if they are expecting any disruption that might affect the sitting of exams and assessments.
In the event of disruption
- Contact the relevant awarding organisation promptly and follow its instructions.
- Take advice, or follow instructions, from relevant local or national agencies in deciding whether your centre is able to open.
- 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 question papers or assessment materials to the alternative venue.
- Where accommodation is limited, prioritise students whose progression will be severely delayed if they do not take their exam or timetabled assessment when planned.
- In the event of an evacuation during an examination please refer to JCQ’s Centre emergency evacuation procedure.
- Communicate with students, parents and carers any changes to the exam or assessment timetable or to the venue.
- Communicate with any external assessors, invigilators or relevant third parties regarding any changes to the exam or assessment timetable.
After the exam
- Consider whether any students’ ability to take the assessment or demonstrate their level of attainment has been materially affected and, if so, apply to the awarding organisation for special consideration.
- Advise students, where appropriate, of the opportunities to take their exam or assessment at a later date.
- Ensure that scripts are stored under secure conditions.
- 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.
Steps the awarding body should take
- Establish and maintain, and at all times comply with, an up to date, written contingency plan.
- 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.
In the event of disruption
- Take all reasonable steps to mitigate any adverse effect, in relation to their qualifications, arising from any disruption.
- Provide effective guidance to any of their centres delivering qualifications.
- Ensure that where an assessment must be completed under specified conditions, students are able to complete the assessment under those conditions (other than where any reasonable adjustments or special considerations require alternative conditions).
- Promptly notify the relevant regulators about any event which could have an adverse effect on students, standards or public confidence.
- Coordinate its communications with the relevant regulators where the disruption has an impact on multiple centres or a wide range of learners.
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.
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, are for each awarding organisation to make. Their decisions might be different for different qualifications and for different subjects.
See also JCQ’s guidance on special consideration.
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 examinations and assessments, including exam timetables.
In September 2023, Ofqual and the Department for Education published joint consultation decisions on long-term resilience arrangements As in 2023, Ofqual has provided guidance on collecting evidence of student performance to ensure resilience in the qualifications system for students entering GCSEs, AS and A levels, the Advanced Extension Award and Project qualifications. For VTQs and other qualifications used alongside or instead of GCSEs, AS and A levels, awarding organisations will provide guidance where needed and will contact schools and colleges with more information.
In December 2022, Qualifications Wales published guidance for contingency assessment arrangements for GCSEs, AS and A levels and Skills Challenge Certificates in the event that a national decision is made to cancel exams. The Department for Education has updated its guidance on handling strike action in schools in England in light of the industrial action in 2023. The guidance recommends schools should prioritise the running of examinations and assessments on any strike days, and should review their contingency plans to make this happen. Schools, colleges and other exam centres must speak to the relevant awarding organisations if they are expecting any disruption that might affect the sitting of exams and assessments.
The Department for Education has also issued guidance for education settings with confirmed reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in their buildings. It includes the need for contingencies for possible disruption to examinations and links to the existing emergency planning guidance.
We will update this page as necessary, with any further relevant links, should national disruption occur.
Widespread national disruption to the taking of examinations and assessments
In the event of any widespread sustained national disruption to examinations or assessments, Welsh Government will communicate with Qualifications Wales, awarding bodies and centres prior to a public announcement. Qualifications Wales will provide advice to Welsh Government on implications for exam timetables.
We will update this page with any further relevant links as necessary should national disruption occur.
General contingency guidance
- emergency planning and response for education, childcare and children's social care settings from the Department for Education in England
- handling strike action in schools from the Department for Education in England
- school organisation: local-authority-maintained schools from the Department for Education in England
- reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete: guidance for education settings with confirmed RAAC from the Department for Education in England
- exceptional closure days - Northern Ireland from the Department of Education in Northern Ireland
- checklist - exceptional closure of schools from the Department of Education in Northern Ireland
- school terms and school closures from NI Direct
- opening schools, childcare and play settings in extreme bad weather and extreme hot weather - guidance for schools from the Welsh Government
- emergency planning and response guidance for education and childcare settings – guidance for schools and education settings from the Welsh Government
- police guidance from National Counter Terrorism Security Office and partners on preparing for threats