The COVID-19 exams fiasco across the UK: four nations and two windows of opportunity



Kippin S & Cairney P (2022) The COVID-19 exams fiasco across the UK: four nations and two windows of opportunity. British Politics, 17 (1), pp. 1-23.

All four UK and devolved governments performed a ‘U-turn’ on their COVID-19 school exams replacement policies. After cancelling exams, they sought teacher estimates on their grades, but supported an algorithm to standardise the results. When the results produced a public outcry over unfair consequences, they initially defended their decision but reverted quickly to teacher assessment. We explain these developments by comparing two ‘windows of opportunity’ overseen by four separate governments, in which the definition of the problem, feasibility of each solution, and motive of policymakers to select one over the other lurched dramatically within a week of the exams results. These experiences highlight the confluence of events and choices and the timing and order of choice. A policy solution that had been rejected during the first window, and would have been criticised heavily if chosen first, became a lifeline during the second. As such, while it is important to understand why the standardisation process went so wrong, we focus on why the policymaking process went so wrong.

COVID-19; Education policy; UK and devolved government; Multiple streams analysis; Heresthetic; Policy learning and transfer

British Politics: Volume 17, Issue 1

Publication date31/03/2022
Publication date online19/02/2021
Date accepted by journal29/01/2021

People (2)


Professor Paul Cairney

Professor Paul Cairney

Professor, Politics

Dr Sean Kippin

Dr Sean Kippin

Lecturer in Public Policy, Politics