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Summer exams will not be fitted around Ramadan, confirm boards

This summer’s timetable for GCSE and A-levels is fixed and will not be changed to further accommodate Muslim pupils who may be fasting despite recent media reports, examination boards have said.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the major exam agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said there had been a “clear misunderstanding in some parts of the media” over the 2016 exam schedule after it announced that the timetable had taken Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, into account.

In a strongly worded statement the council said 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.

Some media outlets, including the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Telegraph, suggested on Wednesday that the timetable was still in flux as a result of the discussions held between the exam boards, the exam regulator Ofqual and Islamic leaders, which appears to have raised concerns that crucial exam dates could change.

The reports followed comments by the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, that discussions were under way over “delaying the exam timetable”.

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 is 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.”

In 2016 the beginning of Ramadan falls on 7 June, in the latter part of the summer exam season.

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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.

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 the case of GCSE English – a compulsory subject taken by more than 500,000 candiates last year – the OCR and AQA exam boards have in fact moved the date of some papers back from 2 June in 2015 to 7 June – the first full day of Ramadan – in 2016.

In the case of the Islam paper within GCSE religious studies, OCR has also shifted the exam back to within Ramadan on the afternoon of 7 June. GCSE maths – another compulsory subject – has been shifted forward in part by AQA so that some papers fall before the start of Ramadan but others remain within the fasting period.

Ramadan – when the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, is believed to have been revealed to the prophet Muhammad – is commemorated by Muslims with fasting during the hours of daylight.

As Ramadan is set by a lunar calendar, its start date moves forward by 11 days every year. In 2016 the holy month is scheduled to run from 7 June to 5 July, overlapping with the summer exam season in May and June.

Ramadan will continue to fall largely during peak periods in the exam season for the next two years, being forecast to begin on 27 May in 2017 and 16 May in 2018.

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