Covid UK: Pupils SHOULD repeat academic year

Pupils should have the RIGHT to repeat academic year because lockdown will leave them ‘scarred for life’ by exam grades – after PM said schools will stay shut until at least March 8

  • Pupils in England who have lost out on learning time should ‘repeat a year’
  • Report says learning losses ‘masked by using teachers to assess exam grades’
  • Head teachers warned scheme could only be open to ‘small numbers’

Pupils in England who have lost out on significant learning time as a result of the cycle of coronavirus lockdowns should be allowed to repeat an academic year, a damning report has urged.

The Education Policy Institution is calling on the government to consider allowing students to repeat a year of education, where this is supported by parents, to tackle extreme cases of learning loss.

It adds that there is a risk of inconsistency and unfairness of grading between different schools and colleges, and between students, as well as a risk of significant grade inflation this year.

However, it said that this policy would only help a minority of pupils across the country and called on the government to ‘focus on a much bigger and targeted package for the thousands of pupils who have lost learning through no fault of their own’.

Though headteachers expressed interest in the idea, they said the scheme could only be open to ‘small numbers’ to avoid a ‘logjam’, after Boris Johnson announced schools would stay shut until at least March 8.  

Other teachers warned that thousands of pupils in England could be ‘scarred for the rest of their lives’ as a result of mass disruption to their education caused by government pandemic action.  

The warning comes as the consultation by Ofqual and the Department for Education (DfE), on how A-level and GCSE students will be awarded grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled, is closing. 

The grading of students became a fiasco last summer when exams were cancelled amid school closures, as thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn, allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.   

Pupils in England who have lost out on significant learning time as a result of the cycle of coronavirus lockdowns should be allowed to repeat an academic year, a report has urged 

The Education Policy Institution is calling on the government to consider allowing students to repeat a year of education, where this is supported by parents, to tackle extreme cases of learning loss. Pictured, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

Boris Johnson admits it will take children a YEAR to catch up as it emerges education secretary wanted schools to reopen after half term but PM overruled him 

Boris Johnson has admitted it could take children a year to catch up from the impact of Covid school closures, as it emerged the education secretary wanted pupils to return at the end of February – only to be overruled by the Prime Minister.   

As he finally put an end to weeks of speculation and wrangling by announcing schools would not reopen until at least March 8, Mr Johnson last night conceded to fellow MPs that the closures were having a ‘huge impact’ on the education of millions of pupils.

In a bid to mitigate against further damage by extending the current school closures beyond half-term, Mr Johnson yesterday announced a £300million support package. The money, he said, would be used to help fund targeted tuition.

However last night it emerged the decision to extend school closures was one pushed through by Mr Johnson himself, amid a split in his cabinet.

According to the Times, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had wanted to reopen at the end of February – straight after half-term.

But Mr Johnson is said to have overruled him, insisting the continued closure of schools would ‘buy the extra weeks needed’ to vaccinate the UK’s most vulnerable residents. 

One source told the Times: ‘Gavin was pushing very hard. He wanted schools to reopen after February half-term and believed it could be done safely. But in the end the data on hospitalisations and infection rates won the argument.’ 

The EPI paper warns that learning losses could be masked by the process of using teacher judgments to assess exam grades, leaving students in further study or work without the skills and knowledge they need.

In its response to the joint consultation on exams, EPI says schools and colleges need clearer advice and guidance to inform grade setting this year and to take Covid-19 learning loss fairly and consistently into account. 

Sammy Wright, Vice-Principal of Southmoor Academy in Sunderland, said exam grades will need to ‘contain a mitigation’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If we simply allow students to have a lower grade because they’ve missed time, then they’re going to be unfairly impacted for the rest of their lives. 

‘The thing that we’ve got to keep our focus at all times on is that we cannot let young people be scarred for the rest of their lives because we’ve made the wrong choice here, and these grades will follow them for the rest of their lives.

‘When they’re 35 they’ll be applying for jobs and these will be on their CVs, and at that stage – to be honest, for the rest of us, we probably don’t remember anything that we learned on the actual subjects – it’s the grades that persist.’   

Also speaking to the BBC this morning, EPI chief executive Natalie Perera said: ‘Allocating grades this year will be incredibly difficult. 

‘I think the government was right to cancel formal exams because of the scale of lost learning this year and because that lost learning has been rather unequal depending on where you are in the country or your family background and circumstance. 

‘That’s just one potential solution for a small minority of pupils who will have lost an extreme amount of learning this year

‘But what the government also needs to focus on is a much bigger and targeted package for the thousands of pupils who have lost learning through no fault of their own.’

She added that ‘this is likely to be a lasting problem’.      

England’s exams regulator is proposing that students could receive their results by the start of July after teachers have assessed their work during a period from May into early June.

Under Ofqual’s plans, teachers would award grades using a range of evidence – which could include coursework, other forms of assessment, papers set externally or papers devised by teachers.

But EPI says final grades should be released in August to allow enough time for quality assurance.

It adds that students in all schools and colleges should take a short, standardised assessment between May and June in most subjects to help assure parents that grading is as fair and consistent as possible.

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: ‘While we agree that the government has selected broadly the least worst option on grading in 2021, the risks of a major public policy disaster are still uncomfortably high. 

‘Asking teachers and schools to set grades themselves in a year of significant and differential learning loss is an extremely challenging task.

‘There is a risk of significant grade inflation and, perhaps more worrying, major inconsistency in the way different schools and colleges award grades. 

Sammy Wright, Vice-Principal of Southmoor Academy in Sunderland, said: ‘If we simply allow students to have a lower grade because they’ve missed time, then they’re going to be unfairly impacted for the rest of their lives’

Other teachers warned thousands of pupils in England could be ‘scarred for the rest of their lives’ as a result of mass disruption to their education caused by government pandemic action. Pictured, schoolchildren going to a primary school in Leeds on January 4, 2021 

It comes days after the UK passed the grim milestone of 100,000 Covid-related deaths

‘The clearest possible advice and guidance to schools and colleges, along with intelligent and proportionate quality assurance, are both needed if the grades awarded this year are going to have the credibility and respect which students, parents, employers and education providers will want.’

Natalie Perera, chief executive of the EPI, added: ‘We must avoid a situation where thousands of students have their futures blighted because although they have respectable grades, they don’t have the mastery of maths, English and practical skills that they will need both in the next stage of education and later on in life.’

A separate report from education think tank EDSK is calling for GCSEs to be scrapped by 2025.

They should be replaced by national computer-based assessments in almost all national curriculum subjects at age 15, the report says.

Under the think tank’s proposals, each student would be awarded a ‘certificate’ that documents the results they have achieved, but no letter or number-based grades would be issued.

Tom Richmond, director of EDSK and a former ministerial adviser at the DfE, said the unprecedented events of the pandemic have created ‘a rare opportunity’ to review the exams system.

A DfE spokeswoman said: ‘Exams are the fairest and most accurate way to measure pupils’ attainment, and GCSEs ensure pupils have a sound knowledge base that prepares them for further study or employment. We have no current plans to reform GCSEs.

‘The impact of the pandemic means it won’t be possible to hold exams fairly this year, and the department is working closely with Ofqual and the sector on arrangements to make sure young people can receive a grade that reflects their hard work and enables them to progress.’

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