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Summer exams cancelled as Johnson locks down England

Universities told to go online as UCU slams omission of sector from prime minister’s address

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has cast doubt on the continuation of exams that determine university entrance for hundreds of thousands of students, as he plunged England into the strictest national lockdown since March and told universities to shut their lecture theatres.

With much of the country already under the toughest tier 4 restrictions, Johnson used his 4 January address to the nation to say summer exams would be cancelled as primary and secondary schools would have to close from 5 January until at least mid-February. In guidance published by the government after the announcement, universities were also told to move teaching online “until mid-February for all except ‘future critical worker’ courses”.

“We recognise it’s not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer,” said Johnson.

The cancellation of last year’s A-levels triggered a crisis for the government as a fallback of algorithmically calculated grades triggered widespread anger and a forced switch to teacher-assessed grades.

While Johnson said schools and colleges should all shift to online learning, he did not mention universities in his speech. However, the official guidance accompanying the latest lockdown states that students should only “return to face-to-face learning as planned” if they are studying medicine and related subject, veterinary science, initial teacher training, social work and some other courses requiring professional assessments that cannot be rescheduled.

Some institutions have already moved significant amounts of teaching online, with University College London telling students to stay away from its campus until mid-February

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, wrote on Twitter that it was an “absolute disgrace for Boris Johnson not to even mention universities in his speech”. 

“Students and staff should not have to go digging on the government website to discover their fate,” she added.