COVID-19 and the second exams fiasco across the UK: four nations trying to avoid immediate policy failure



Kippin S & Cairney ·P (2022) COVID-19 and the second exams fiasco across the UK: four nations trying to avoid immediate policy failure. British Politics.

In 2021, the UK and devolved governments tried to avoid the school exams fiasco of 2020. Their immediate marker of success was to prevent a similar U-turn on their COVID-19 school exams replacement policies. They still cancelled the traditional exam format, and sought teacher assessments to determine their grades, but this time without using an algorithm to standardise the results. The outcomes produced some concerns about inequity, since the unequal exam results are similar to those experienced in 2020. However, we did not witness the same sense of acute political crisis. We explain these developments by explaining this year's '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, connects strongly to the previous U-turn. A policy solution that had been rejected during the first window became a lifeline during the second and a likely choice during the third. This action solved an immediate crisis despite exacerbating the problem that ministers had previously sought to avoid ('grade inflation'). It produced another year of stark education inequity, but also ensured that inequity went from part of an acute political crisis to its usual status as a chronic low-attention policy problem.

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

Output Status: Forthcoming/Available Online

British Politics

StatusIn Press
FundersEuropean Commission (Horizon 2020)
Publication date online23/03/2022
Date accepted by journal21/02/2022

People (2)


Professor Paul Cairney

Professor Paul Cairney

Professor, Politics

Dr Sean Kippin

Dr Sean Kippin

Lecturer in Public Policy, Politics