Exam talks over Ramadan clash fears

Qualifications bodies have been in talks with Muslim groups over concerns the summer exams season could be affected by Ramadan.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) is among those working to “reduce as far as possible the impact” of the month-long religious period, which is expected to fall in the key
academic months of June and July in three years’ time.

We will be working closely with Muslim groups on the setting of future timetables to reduce as far as possible the impact on those observing Ramadan

It could affect the exams season right up to 2023 prompting concerns — shared by the Muslim British Council (MCB) — about learners getting up before dawn to eat so they can observe daytime fasting.

There are fears that interrupted sleep could affect grades.

A spokesperson for the JCQ, which is responsible for timetabling A-level and GCSE exams, said: “We have met with Muslim groups to discuss the changing dates of Ramadan and how, over the coming years, it will increasingly clash with examinations.

“We will be working closely with Muslim groups on the setting of future timetables to reduce as far as possible the impact on those observing Ramadan.

“There are limitations on how flexible the timetables can be but, for example, we will review whether a balance of morning and afternoon slots or just morning slots are preferable for large entry subjects.”

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and it changes every year depending on the position of the moon.

Shabnam Khan, secretary of the MCB’s education committee, said: “Muslims who are fasting will usually get up before dawn to have their breakfast — this does interrupt their sleeping patterns and educational centres and places of work are advised to be aware of some of the special aspects of a fast.”

She added: “In 2019 it is expected that the month of Ramadan will coincide fully with the end of year examination period.

“To help students reach their potential and to help educational centres in the UK as much as possible, the committee is working in consultation with various organizations including Ofqual, JCQ as well as with schools across the country … to assess this impact.”

A spokesperson for Ofqual, which last month invited the JCQ, MCB and education charity VIP Minds, to its offices in Coventry to explore the concerns, said it was the first time the issue of Ramadan falling on the exams season had been raised.

She said: “We recently invited JCQ, MCB and the charity VIP Minds to a meeting to discuss the issue of students fasting for Ramadan and examination timetables.

“Timetabling for GCE/GCSE examinations is the responsibility of JCQ and as a result of the recent meeting they are working with VIP Minds to look at the most effective timetabling for exams from 2016.

“We are also considering the impact of Ramadan on linear assessments as part of our equality analysis into the proposed GCSE reforms.”