Snow may hit thousands of exams

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Thousands of students will have to battle the ice to get to schools and colleges to sit exams this week.

Examining bodies have confirmed that GCSE, AS and A Level exams will be going ahead as planned. As a a result, the message from most schools is for students to come in if it is safe to do so.

However, many of the schools' websites say students will be able to re-sit examinations in the summer should they be snowed in. This will mean a wait of another five months to take exam modules if they cannot take them because of the snow, or settle for estimated grades.

The Nation Union of Teachers is calling for England's exams watchdog (Ofqual) and the exams boards to give clearer guidance.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT said: "The likelihood of a number of examination centres across the country closing is strong given the uniform severity of weather conditions.

"I urge Ofqual to secure a consistent approach with the exam boards. It first needs to find out how many centres are likely to close and how many students will be prevented from taking exams.

"The decision needs to be made to either delay the exams or award pupils grades on the basis of previous course work."

A spokesman for the exams watchdog Ofqual said that it will make sure that all the awarding bodies take the same approach.

"There is a tried and tested contingency plan for problems of this kind. It is published on the Ofqual website.

"These arrangements are the fairest possible for all candidates - both those affected by the snow and those who are not."

The OCR exam board said it had almost 800,000 entries for GCSE exams and just over 500,000 for A-levels, plus 3,000 for components of the new 14-19 Diplomas.

Edexcel said it had about 32,000 candidates registered for GCSE and approximately 230,000 registered for A-levels in the January 2010 session.

Meanwhile, the education department has advised schools to open where reasonably practicable in the severe weather.

"Every lesson counts and it is right that schools should stay open wherever reasonably practicable during severe weather conditions, subject to safety considerations," said a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

"It is up to head teachers to make professional and common-sense judgements about marking absences as authorised or unauthorised during very severe weather.

"If a school which remains open is satisfied that the reason a child could not get to school was the adverse weather then that absence should be authorised."

Another concern, coming from the Federation of Small Businesses is the impact to school targets, if pupils stay away from schools that officially stay open - should Ofsted mark down the lack of attendance as absenteeism or truancy.

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