GCSE and A-level exams timetable adjusted to lessen impact of Ramadan on pupils
GCSE and A-level exams are set to be rejigged this summer to take into account the impact of Ramadan.
Subjects taken by large numbers of students - for example GCSE English and maths - may be timetabled right at the start of the exams season, before the holy month begins in early June - or set at a time to lessen the effect on Muslim students, it has been revealed.
Ramadan, which Muslims observe by fasting during daylight hours, has been gradually moving into the summer exams season in England - which runs from the end of May and throughout most of June - over the last few years. This year it covers most of the exams period.
As the window available for students to sit papers is tight, exams would not be able to be delayed, but there is scope for movement within the regular schedule, it was suggested.
In a statement, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents exam boards, said it consulted on the timetable every year and considered comments from a wide range of groups, including schools, colleges and faith groups.
"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," a JCQ spokesman said.
"However, JCQ meets the needs of various groups as far as possible.
"JCQ and the qualifications regulator Ofqual have previously met with Muslim groups to discuss the timetabling of examinations in light of Ramadan moving into the examination period.
"Where possible, large entry GCSE and GCE subjects are timetabled prior to the commencement of Ramadan and consideration given to whether they are timetabled in the morning or afternoon."
The statement came after Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield was asked about the impact of Ramadan falling over the exams period this morning as she gave evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee.
In response, she said she was not aware of the detail but that she understood there were discussions under way around delaying the timetable.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the union was meeting with Muslim faith leaders to discuss Ramadan, and plans to issue guidance to schools and colleges ahead of the exams.
"The guidance will be non-prescriptive and will not advise families or students on how they should address the question of fasting during Ramadan which we agree is a matter for the individuals concerned along with parents, carers and faith leaders.
"School and college leaders are very keen to work with communities to ensure young people are able to observe Ramadan without any detrimental impact on their examinations."
Teachers first raised concerns about the impact of Ramadan on Muslim teenagers two years ago, arguing that if students went into their exams hungry or thirsty it could affect their results.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the union had been campaigning about the issue 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."