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Pupils told to have ‘plan B’ for getting to school for exams amid rail strikes

Pupils sitting exams could face travel trouble (David Jones/PA)
Pupils sitting exams could face travel trouble (David Jones/PA)

Pupils and parents have been warned to have a “plan B” for getting to school for their exams during the rail strikes.

The major industrial action, which will see tens of thousands of rail workers walking out for most of this week, will clash with some A-level and GCSE exams set for Tuesday and Thursday.

The Department for Education has said exams are not expected to be rescheduled.

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) and the Joint Council for Qualifications (JQC) – an association for major exam boards in the UK – said some contingency measures are in place for late arrivals.

Pepe Diiasio, head of Wales High School in Rotherham said people should have a “plan B in their back pocket” to get to school.

Mr Diiasio said only a “limited number” of pupils are likely to be affected by the strikes overall but that it will be “serious” for those who are.

“If you’ve got exams this week, just have a plan A and plan B in your back pocket because … it’s been a difficult year already for people taking exams,” he said.

“The last thing they want to worry about now is whether or not they’re actually going to arrive on time.”

Mr Diiasio said one of their school buses broke down last week on the day of the maths exam.

“Our plan B was to send out a whole raft of minibuses to make sure we picked up students and got them in on time,” he said.

“So these things happen from time to time. You just need to be prepared for any eventuality.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL) said schools, parents and pupils should not panic about the strikes because of the contingency plans in place for late arrivals.

The JCQ, which issued contingency plans for summer exams in April, said schools can start the exam up to 30 minutes after the set start time.

It added that centres which are not able to start an examination within 30 minutes of the published start time can start the exam later as long as it takes place that day and candidates are supervised by a member of staff until it starts.

Meanwhile, candidates can still sit the exam if they arrive up to an hour late and still get the full amount of time for their exam.

Those who arrive later than one hour may still be able to sit the exam but it needs to be “administered correctly by the centre,” the JCQ added.

Mr Barton said: “I think what that’s done is just to take some of the pressure out of the system and just calm young people who might otherwise have been worrying that if they were going to be 10 minutes late, they wouldn’t be able to do their exam, which is simply not the case so we’ve been trying to kind of reassure youngsters.”

Mr Barton also advised people to “be aware that it might be that traveling by road, whether it’s on a bus or in a car may take you longer”.

“So if you’ve got an exam, you probably want to try and set off earlier but equally arrangements are in place that schools a) can start their exams a bit later and b) that if somebody did, because they were stuck in traffic, arrive late, then they’re not going to be penalised for that, they will still get the full amount of time for their exam,” he said.

One student from Devon has described the stress and anxiety caused by the possibility of missing a crucial exam ahead of this week’s strikes.

Finn Dixon, 18, is set to take one T-level exam on Tuesday and lives more than 64 miles away from his college in Devon, normally only accessible to him by train.

The strikes this week means Mr Dixon’s parents will not work in order to get him there, which causes “even more damage”.

“It has caused me lots of anxiety… and now that I’m also relying on peak motorway traffic, I’m scared I can’t make it in time (for) my exam,” Mr Dixon told the PA news agency.

“Those who live in a similar area are definitely just as affected as I am, we have all been talking for the past week wondering how we’re all going to make it and worrying.”

A JCQ spokesperson said: “We appreciate this may cause disruption for some candidates and we have existing measures already in place to help in these circumstances.

“Individual centres’ contingency planning will provide specific guidance to candidates and parents, advising them what to do if a candidate is late for an exam,” they added.

“We encourage all candidates to plan any necessary alternative travel arrangements as soon as possible and contact their centre if they have any specific questions.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We recognise how concerning these strikes will be for students – particularly for those sitting GCSEs and A-Levels.

“We know schools and colleges will draw on their existing contingency arrangements already in place to manage any possible disruption,” they added.