This year, key GCSE and A-Level exams in the UK have been scheduled to take into account the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which overlaps the traditional exam season.
Ramadan shifts about 11 days each year relative to the Gregorian calendar and has lined up with exam season since 2013. Ramadan begins on June 6th this year and ends July 5th, and students in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland will take exams between May 16 and June 29th.
During the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims fast during daylight, say extra prayers, and attend special services. Because of the fasting element, some education professionals are concerned about the unfairly negative effect on exam performance, writes Sebastian Mann of the Britaly Post. For this reason, the exams taken by the most students have been scheduled primarily before Ramadan begins, or early in the day to mitigate the effects of the fasting on exam results.
Michael Turner, the director general of the Joint Council for Qualifications, consults with various organizations and considered professionals' comments on the exam schedule each year. This year, he says, the input of Muslim groups was taken into account because of educators' concerns.
JCQ and the qualifications regulator Ofqual have previously met with Muslim groups to discuss the timetabling of examinations in light of Ramadan moving into the examination period.
Where possible, large-entry GCSE and GCE subjects are timetabled prior to the commencement of Ramadan and consideration given to whether they are timetabled in the morning or afternoon.
Head teachers of secondary schools in the Association of School and College leaders are planning to meet up with Muslim leaders to see how best to handle the scheduling conflict, reports Hannah Richardson of the BBC.
ASCL deputy general secretary Malcolm Trobe said:
The guidance will be non-prescriptive and will not advise families or students on how they should address the question of fasting during Ramadan, which we agree is a matter for the individuals concerned along with parents, carers, and faith leaders.
According to Javier Espinoza of the Telegraph, fasting during Ramadan, or "sawm," is one of the five pillars of Islam, meaning that it is a central tenet of the religion. No food, drink, smoking, or sex is allowed between sunrise and sunset during that month. However, people with other concerns like pregnancy, breastfeeding, sickness, or travel are permitted to eat during the day. Charity is also an important part of the month-long celebration, and Muslims often donate or volunteer throughout the month.
The most recent census reports that 2.71 million Muslims live in England and Wales, meaning that 4.8% of the population is Muslim and about the same percentage of students will be affected.
According to Eleanor Harding of the Daily Mail, these measures are likely to be in place for at least five years until the month of Ramadan no longer overlaps with exam season.