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GCSEs And A-Level Exams Set To Be Rescheduled So They Don't Clash With Ramadan

07/01/2016 09:06 GMT | Updated 07/01/2016 12:59 GMT
Fareed Khan/AP
Pakistani Muslims offer Eid al-Fitr prayers at a ground in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, July 18, 2015. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims all over the world fast from sunrise to sunset. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

A number of GCSE and A-level exams look set to be rescheduled to avoid clashing with the Islamic holy month Ramadan, after concerns were raised fasting Muslim students would be at a disadvantage.

Examination boards say they have held talks with Muslim groups and will aim to avoid holding exams in the most popular subjects during Ramadan, which this year is expected to start in early June.

The boards will also consider whether to hold exams in the morning or the afternoon, as Muslim students who are fasting will not be as hungry in the morning as they would be come afternoon.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents examination boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said in a statement: "Where possible, large-entry GCSE and GCE [A-level] subjects are timetabled prior to the commencement of Ramadan and consideration is given to whether they are timetabled in the morning or afternoon."

The council added: "The small window in which examinations can be taken, the large number of candidates taking examinations and the diverse range of subjects available to candidates places significant limitations on the changes that can be accommodated for any one group. However, JCQ meets the needs of various groups as far as possible."

Youssef Fahmy, a 18-year-old student said he was glad the exam board is taking action.

"Last year I took an Arabic exam when I was fasting and I became extremely tired halfway through the exam," he told HuffPost UK.

"It's hard to focus on the exam when you're already extremely nervous, and fasting makes it even harder and frustrating.

"You get hungry and thirsty, and most Muslim students come out weary and tired."

He added: "Imagine waking up and remembering your exam is at 3pm that day. You'll think of your hunger and your thirst and you'll be dizzy at the start of the exam."

One mother, Shaista Rafiq, said the gesture was "very nice" but was not fair on those who were not Muslim or who did not fast.

Writing on Facebook she said: "My daughter has her first year A-level exams this year [and] she surely won't be fasting during her exam period, although can fast on an alternative day when suitable.

"Moving exam time table for exams will disrupt thousands of pupils which is not right at all.. pupils already go through enough stress as it is why burden them with more."

A Department for Education spokesperson said the matter of timetabling exams was for the JCQ and exam boards to decide.

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According to the Times, Ramadan last coincided with the school exam season in 1984, and no concessions were made for Muslim students.

The Daily Mail reports the measures are likely to be in place for at least five years, thanks to the holy month moving backwards through the yearly calendar by around 11 days every year.

Speaking to HuffPost, Jay Harman, campaigns officer for the British Humanist Association said: "The priority when scheduling exams should be to ensure that all children have the best opportunity to achieve success. Reasonable people will accept that in a fair and secular democracy there must be some scope for 'reasonable accommodation' of religious beliefs, provided such accommodation does not negatively affect the rights and freedoms of others.

"We are confident that the Joint Council for Qualifications was mindful of this when they rescheduled the exams, and will be in the future."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the union had been campaigning for exams to be rescheduled for more than a year.

"As educators we want all children to be able to achieve their best in exams that are so crucial to their future," she said.

"We shall continue to raise awareness of best practice and how education staff can support students during Ramadan."