England Should Follow Wales’ Example and Make a Decision on Exams

Photo credit: BBC Bitesize

When news broke that Wales were cancelling exams for GCSE and A-Level pupils I was ecstatic. As a tutor who helps mainly GCSE English pupils, I know how stressful the pandemic has been for these students. 

After the government’s mishandling of the results system last summer, many of my pupils have been left feeling anxious about the Summer of 2021. As a result, a lot of them are putting the same amount of pressure on themselves now that I wouldn’t expect to see until April or May. While a wish to do well is commendable, I am concerned that with such uncertainty for the months ahead, my pupils, along with many others, will burn themselves out. 

Something the government has really struggled with, during this pandemic, is making decisions that look at the long-term. I believe that decisions about the exams of 2021 need to be made soon, so students can at least know what to expect and, therefore, plan accordingly. In addition to this decision being made, if exams do not go ahead the government needs to be clear on how pupils will be graded fairly.

It is important to address such issues now before any long-term damage is done. While the answer may not be to cancel exams outright, I think the government needs to address what they will do to support pupils now before it is too late. I also believe that this knowledge of what the next six months will look like for them will  make a huge difference to both their performance and mental health. The pressure on young people today is enormous, with this pressure fast accelerating. These young people are training to enter a world which is becoming more competitive, and, since COVID-19 began, more uncertain.

For many, their choice of A-Levels depends on their results. Many may give up if they feel the government doesn’t have their back on this issue.

So far, the only announcement made by the government is that exams this year will be pushed back by three weeks. However, such an admission seems tiny when you consider how much teaching time was lost by the closing of schools in the first lockdown, which began in March. A lack of organisation by the government meant that while some schools and pupils were equipped for the switch to home studies, many were not.

A report released by the Institute of Fiscal Studies in September 2020 stated that: “With home learning implemented suddenly and with little national or local guidance, schools offered dramatically different packages of support to their pupils”. 

According to the report, “nearly 60% of secondary schools, offered some active learning materials, such as online classes or online chats. But these resources were 37% (24%) more likely to be provided to the richest third of primary (secondary) school children than to the poorest third.”

Shockingly, these gaps are still widening: “Among secondary school children, there was a gap of 45 minutes a day in learning time between the richest and the poorest third of children before the lockdown. This gap is now 15 minutes larger.”

Although pupils have returned to school, they still suffer from regular disruption to learning. Many of my pupils have spent at least two weeks at home already this term due to someone in their bubble testing positive for COVID-19, or their whole year-group having to be out of school due to a spike in cases.

The stress of an increase in time spent away from school on top of the months lost in the Summer term of last academic year is unimaginable. The government must act now and make a decision on exams before more and more pupils suffer as a result of their inaction. 

Words by Matilda Martin

 

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