Students Sit Exams Despite Snow As Schools Battle To Stay Open

Teenagers across the country were sitting exams on Monday as schools and colleges made valiant attempts to stay open despite the snowy conditions.

The "vast majority" of GCSE and A-level papers scheduled to take place were going ahead as planned, according to the exams regulator Ofqual.

While thousands of schools were forced to shut as the snow continued to fall, others were taking action to ensure that pupils could sit exams they have been preparing for over the last few months.

In some cases, schools were only opening for exam candidates.

One bunch of students refused to be beaten by their headteacher, even starting a Twitter campaign to get the school shut, but unfortunately to no avail.

Union leaders said schools "almost invariably find a way" to ensure that pupils can sit papers, even if it means finding an alternative venue.

A number of exams are due to take place today, including papers for A-level psychology, A-level biology, A-level geography, GCSE geography and GCSE information and communication technology (ICT).

An Ofqual spokesman said: "The vast majority of exams are going ahead as scheduled.

"The message to send to schools and colleges is to keep in touch with your exam board, and let them know what the situation is."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said that individual headteachers will be making the decision about whether to stay open.

"I think schools are trying very hard to do everything they can to stay open, particularly when they've got things like exams going on.

"The safety of children on the school premises is paramount and headteachers have to do a risk assessment to ensure there will be proper supervision.

"Where there's a worry about that, that's what informs a decision to close the school. You cannot have children unsupervised in school."

Lightman said that when headteachers feel they have to close, they always take issues like exams into consideration.

There is "almost always" a member of staff who can open up the school so that classes can be laid on for students taking exams, he said.

"When there are actual external exams taking place almost invariably schools will find a way to ensure that students can take those exams."

Lightman said he has heard of cases in the past where schools have found another place for students to sit papers.

Students who are unable to take their exams today will have to wait until the summer for the next chance to sit them, according to advice given to schools by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

In a document published on its website, JCQ, which represents the biggest exam boards in the UK, says rescheduling exams is "not an option".

"It is important to note that rescheduling examinations is not an option due to the consequences this would have across the system," it says.

"For example, it would reduce significantly the amount of time schools and colleges have to teach, and students to learn, in preparation for the summer examination series.

"The integrity of the question papers could also be compromised. The task of ensuring that all schools and colleges do not offer the examinations on the original scheduled date would be difficult to undertake and guarantee."

Plans are in place for students who cannot sit exams today due to bad weather to take them in the summer, or if it was their final chance to sit the paper they can apply for special consideration, JCQ's advice said.

This means they can ask their exam board to take into consideration the circumstances and to be graded on the work they have already done.

JCQ director Michael Turner said: "Awarding bodies have procedures in place to deal with disruption to exams caused by the snow and ice that is affecting large parts of the country.

"These well-rehearsed processes ensure students are not disadvantaged.

"In the majority of case exams will go ahead as usual, but where conditions are so severe that schools are closed or students are unable to make it to their exams, alternative arrangements are available. This may include holding the exam at an alternative venue or students taking it later in the year.

"In extreme cases, special consideration may be applied for."

Councillor David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said: "Routes to large schools are gritting priorities for local authorities as they know how important keeping them open is, both in terms of continuity of teaching for pupils and avoiding costly and disruptive childcare for parents.

"Ultimately, headteachers, in consultation with school governors, make the final decision on whether or not to close a school. This is based on a range of local circumstances including the number of teachers who can make it into work safely, dangerous road conditions, or problems with vital supplies such as food, heating or water."