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GCSE and A-Levels exams will not be fitted around Ramadan

29th Jan 2016

Elham Asaad Buaras

The body representing the seven largest exam boards in the UK, has robustly denied media reports that this summer’s GCSE and A-Levels exams will be moved to accommodate Muslim students fasting during Ramadan.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said contrary to reports from some media outlets, including the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Telegraph, the GCSE and A-Levels timetables will not be changed to assist fasting Muslim pupils.

The JCQ said there had been a “clear misunderstanding in some parts of the media” over the exam schedule after it announced that the timetable had taken Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, into account. And the timing of Ramadan had been considered in the same way as other events – such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June 2012 – and that the timetable was not open to change.

On January 6, some media outlets suggested the timetable was still in flux as a result of the discussions held between the exam boards, the exam regulator Ofqual and Muslim leaders, which appears to have raised concerns that crucial exam dates could change.

Colin Hart, of Christian Concern was quoted asking, “How can you start changing the rules for everybody just to accommodate those particular pupils who are Muslims, who are in a minority? ”

But the JCQ said: “There has been a clear misunderstanding in some parts of the media as to how the GCSE and A-Level timetable is set and the impact religious events, such as Ramadan, Easter and Passover, have on it. It is important to note that the timetable for 2016 was drafted over a year ago, is published and won’t be changing.

“Each year the timetable is reviewed to ensure it meets the current needs of students, schools and colleges. This review includes a consultation and considers comments from a wide range of stakeholders including schools, colleges and religious groups. However, each year there are only minimal changes.

“In such a large, complex system where there are a large number of candidates taking examinations and a diverse range of subjects available, it is not always possible to meet each and every request. Exam boards will always aim to be as fair as possible to all. If a small change can be made for any one group that does not impact negatively on most students, it will, quite rightly, be considered – but these are made before the timetable is published.”

The beginning of Ramadan falls on June 7, in the latter part of the summer exam season.

After discussions, the exam boards decided to make minor adjustments to the timetable, which included moving some popular exams to before the start of Ramadan and holding others in the mornings, to avoid penalising pupils who were fasting during daylight hours.

Popular exams in UK are to be rescheduled to avoid Ramadan

Comparisons of the 2015 and 2016 timetables show the changes have been minor, and in some cases the advent of Ramadan had no obvious effect on timings.

In 2016 Ramadan is scheduled to run from June 7 to July 5, overlapping with the summer exam season in May and June.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has accused some newspapers of running misleading and “hysteric headlines” to tarnish Muslim communities on an issue affecting a pluralist society.

A spokesman for MCB told The Muslim News, “Some newspapers have once again led with front pages with hysteric headlines on Muslims, this time with the charge that all ‘Pupils face exam shake-up to accommodate fasting Muslims’. ”

“In fact, there is no ‘shake-up’ or talk of radically changing exam timetable to fit the lives of fasting pupils. It is reasonable that the JCQ reviews the timetable to ensure it meets the needs of all children, including Muslims. It is appropriate that small changes that can easily accommodate the requirements of any group should be considered, especially where that does not impact negatively on most students. ”

“We live in a pluralist society where reasonable accommodations are always made all the time. This is no different. It is disturbing that some media outlets have chosen to use this reasonable accommodation as another means of tarring Muslim communities.”

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