Guidance: what schools and colleges should do if exams or other assessments are seriously disrupted

This joint contingency plan is in place to deal with any major disruption that may affect exam candidates.

Updated 30 November 2022

Applies to England, Northern Ireland and Wales


  1. Contingency planning
  2. Disruption to assessments or exams
  3. Steps you should take
  4. Steps the awarding organisation should take
  5. If any students miss an exam or are disadvantaged by the disruption
  6. Wider communications
  7. Widespread national disruption to the taking of examinations or assessments

We updated this document on 30 November 2022, to reflect that public health measures are no longer in force and exams and assessments will largely return to pre-pandemic arrangements for 2022-2023.

We have not, however, updated this document in other ways as the overall ethos still applies. You will need to make sure you are aware of your specific responsibilities for local and national school preparations and contingencies and advice from relevant public health bodies should there be a need for specific Covid-19 related advice.

Contingency planning

Awarding organisations are required to establish, maintain and comply with an up-to-date detailed written contingency plan, to mitigate any incident they have identified may occur. This includes having communication plans for external parties (QW Standard Condition of Recognition A6). Schools and colleges should also be prepared for possible disruption to exams and assessments and make sure staff are aware of these plans. 

General contingency guidance

Disruption to assessments or exams

In the absence of any instruction from the relevant awarding organisation, you should make sure that any exam or timetabled assessment takes place if it is possible to hold it. This may mean relocating to alternative premises. You should discuss alternative arrangements with your awarding organisation if:

  • the exam or assessment cannot take place
  • a student misses an exam or loses their assessment due to an emergency, or other event, outside of the student’s control

You may also wish to see the JCQ’s notice to centres on exam contingency plans and JCQ’s notice on preparing for disruption to examinations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for qualifications within its scope.

Steps you should take

Exam planning

Review contingency plans well in advance of each exam or assessment series. Consider how, if the contingency plan is invoked, you will comply with the awarding organisation’s requirements.

In the event of disruption

  1. Contact the relevant awarding organisation and follow its instructions.
  2. Take advice, or follow instructions, from relevant local or national agencies in deciding whether your centre is able to open.
  3. Identify whether the exam or timetabled assessment can be sat at an alternative venue, in agreement with the relevant awarding organisation, ensuring the secure transportation of questions papers or assessment materials to the alternative venue.
  4. Where accommodation is limited, prioritise students whose progression will be severely delayed if they do not take their exam or timetabled assessment when planned.
  5. In the event of an evacuation during an examination please refer to JCQ’s Centre emergency evacuation procedure for qualifications within its scope.
  6. Communicate with parents, carers and students any changes to the exam or assessment timetable or to the venue.
  7. Communicate with any external assessors or relevant third parties regarding any changes to the exam or assessment timetable.

After the exam

  1. Consider whether any students’ ability to take the assessment or demonstrate their level of attainment has been materially affected and, if so, apply for special consideration.
  2. Advise students, where appropriate, of the opportunities to take their exam or assessment at a later date.
  3. Ensure that scripts are stored under secure conditions.
  4. Return scripts to awarding organisations in line with their instructions. Never make alternative arrangements for the transportation of completed exam scripts, unless told to do so by the awarding organisation.

Steps the awarding organisation should take

Exam planning

  1. Establish and maintain, and at all times comply with, an up-to-date, written contingency plan.
  2. Ensure that the arrangements in place with centres and other third parties enable them to deliver and award qualifications in accordance with their conditions of recognition.

In the event of disruption

  1. Take all reasonable steps to mitigate any adverse effect, in relation to their qualifications, arising from any disruption.
  2. Provide effective guidance to any of their centres delivering qualifications.
  3. Ensure that where an assessment must be completed under specified conditions, students complete the assessment under those conditions (other than where any reasonable adjustments or special considerations require alternative conditions).
  4. Promptly notify the relevant regulators about any event which could have an adverse effect on students, standards or public confidence.
  5. Coordinate its communications with the relevant regulators where the disruption has an impact on multiple centres or a wide range of learners.

After the exam

Consider any requests for special consideration for affected students. For example, those who may have lost their internally assessed work or whose performance in assessments or exams could have been affected by the disruption.

If any students miss an exam or are disadvantaged by the disruption

If some of the students have been adversely affected by the disruption, you should ask the awarding organisation about applying for special consideration.

Decisions about special consideration, when it is or is not appropriate, is for each awarding organisation to make. Their decisions might be different for different qualifications and for different subjects.

See JCQ’s guidance on special considerations for the qualifications within its scope.

Wider communications

The regulators, Ofqual in England, Qualifications Wales in Wales and CCEA Regulation in Northern Ireland, will share timely and accurate information, as required, with awarding organisations, government departments and other stakeholders.

The Department for Education in England, the Department of Education  in Northern Ireland, and the Welsh Government will inform the relevant government ministers as soon as it becomes apparent that there will be significant local or national disruption; and ensure that they are kept updated until the matter is resolved.

Awarding organisations will alert the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and the Central Applications Office (CAO) about any impact of the disruption on their deadlines and liaise regarding student progression to further and higher education.

Awarding organisations will alert relevant professional bodies or employer groups if the impact of disruption particularly affects them.

Widespread national disruption to the taking of examinations or assessments

The governments’ view across England, Wales and Northern Ireland is education in 2022 to 2023 has returned to normal. Schools are open and examinations and assessments will go ahead in summer 2023.

As education is devolved, in the event of any widespread sustained national disruption to examinations or assessments, national government departments will communicate with regulators, awarding organisations and centres prior to a public announcement. Regulators will provide advice to government departments on implications for examinations and assessments including exam timetables.

In November 2022, Ofqual and the Department for Education issued decisions following a consultation on the resilience of the qualifications sector for specific examinations awarded in England in summer 2023). Ofqual has published Guidance for schools, colleges and other exam centres on gathering evidence of student performance for students entering GCSEs, AS and A levels, the Advanced Extension Award and Project qualifications to support resilience in the exam system in England in 2023.

In December 2022 Qualifications Wales published Guidance on contingency assessment arrangements for Approved GCSEs, AS and A level to support centres prepare for the unlikely event that future examinations series are cancelled.

The UK Department for Education has updated its guidance on handling strike action in schools in England in light of the industrial action in 2023. The guidance recommends schools should prioritise the running of examinations and assessments on any strike days, and should review their contingency plans to make this happen. Schools, colleges and other exam centres should speak to the relevant awarding organisations if they are expecting any disruption that might affect the sitting of exams and assessments.

We will update this page as necessary, with any further relevant links, should national disruption occur.