Posted on April 14, 2014

Plans to Overhaul GCSE Timetable to Avoid Clash with Ramadan

Nicola Fifield, Telegraph (London), April 6, 2014

Proposals to bring forward GCSE and A-level examinations so Muslim pupils aren’t fasting for Ramadan during the exam season are to be debated at an education conference this month.

According to the Mail On Sunday, another option to be discussed at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Union (ATL) conference is holding exams in the morning when fasting pupils are less likely to be hungry.

It has also been suggested that Muslim students who feel their performance has been affected by their fasting could be eligible for extra marks due to ‘extenuating circumstances’.

The problem has arisen because Ramadan, a holy period in the Islamic calendar requiring Muslims to fast during daylight hours, will fall progressively earlier in the summer from next year–eventually clashing with the May-June exam season in 2016.

However, Chris McGovern, a former head teacher and spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, said he would be against making changes to the exam timetable for the benefit of Muslim pupils.

Instead, he called on Islamic leaders to allow students sitting exams to be exempt from fasting during Ramadan.

He said: “The example I always give is Eric Liddell refusing to compete on a Sunday at the Paris Olympics in 1924 because of his strong Christian faith.

“The organisers weren’t prepared to rearrange the Olympic timetable just for him and in the same way you couldn’t expect the exam boards to change the timetable just for Muslim pupils.

“It’s not about not respecting any particular religion, it’s about being fair to all pupils.

“For example, if you move an English exam to Tuesday morning because that better suits someone who is fasting, then that might disadvantage a non-Muslim pupil who could then find themselves with two exams in one day rather than one.

“If one religious group is given particular consideration, it could cause resentment and could potentially be very divisive. Exams are a secular thing and they should stay that way.

“I think students who are Muslims should take guidance from their leaders regarding the requirements of Ramadan. My understanding is that exemptions are possible.”

Barry Lingard, who is on the ATL executive committee, supports the bid to bring forward the exam season.

He said: “The consequences are quite huge, particularly with the return to three-hour exams at the end of the course in the summer.

“If some of the big vital exams like English and maths could be rescheduled for before Ramadan kicks in, that would certainly be supported by the majority of teachers.”

Also affected by the clash of dates will be Muslim undergraduates at universities–and the government-funded Equality Challenge Unit, which advises higher education, is supporting a change to the exam timetable.

A spokesman said: “Institutions should be prepared to consider significant adjustments to their exam schedules and think creatively about assessment methods in order to eliminate disadvantage to particular groups.”

Muslim students at the University of East Anglia in Norwich have already been told that if they feel that fasting has affected their performance in exams then this should be submitted as an “extenuating circumstance”.

Ofqual, the exam watchdog, and the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the main three exam boards, have held meetings with Muslim groups to discuss the issue.