School’s in, school’s out

How on Earth can the GCSE and A Level results be in any way fair this year?

Students taking GCSE Exams


It must be extremely stressful working in a school at the moment, particularly a secondary school. It’s tiring enough being a parent and reading all the updates.

And it’s not that I think the primary schools have it easy – my sister is a primary school teacher and I am absolutely sure that stress levels are through the roof.

There’s not a day that passes that there is not an update or three from schools. I have children at three different schools so that’s a lot of updates to read. On Saturday evening I was catching up on something when ping, in came an email from the school. A Saturday night school email is unusual, even in these unprecedented times. Several students in daughter three’s year had tested positive for Covid. The entire year 11 was advised not to come in on Monday until the school could do an extensive track and trace exercise. There was a chance many would have to self isolate for two weeks.

Daughter three’s GCSE mocks are due to start next week. She greeted the news with a fist pump. She feels nowhere near ready to do the mocks and they are really loading the pressure on the mocks in case the Government goes the same route as Wales and cancels the real thing next year – probably at the last minute after heavy pressure. There are entire parts of the syllabus that she has yet to catch up on, given she was off school from February half term – when her sister died – until September.

She has been putting all her efforts into catching up, but her underlying confidence levels are low and she suffers from anxiety. I have told her repeatedly to ignore the attempts to put pressure on her as much as is humanly possible and to focus on the mocks more as an exercise in helping her get her timing right when answering questions, etc. For me, she already has a million 9s for the way she has made it this far, with all the thoughtfulness for her family members that she shows daily and the kindness towards others. And before anyone mentions it, she doesn’t want to resit: she wants to get out of her school, get to sixth form and get on with her life.

On Monday we were told that daughter three had not come into close contact with any of the students with Covid, but that the mocks were likely to be delayed. This was the outcome daughter three was looking for. Just one day of homeschooling reminded her that it wasn’t what she wanted at all. But just after dropping her off on Wednesday, the whole thing changed again. Another student had tested positive and the whole of Year 11 is going into self isolation. Now she is worrying that she can’t face studying at home and that the mocks will be delayed until the new year and will hang over Christmas, which is already going to be a difficult time.

It’s interesting as I was expecting daughter two’s year to close down first since her school is enormous compared to daughter three’s. Indeed, on Monday an email came from her school that year 10 had been forced to self isolate. It’s surely only a matter of time before it spreads to other year groups. Daughter two is in the sixth form facing A Level mocks in January and wishing she was living in, say, Swansea.

The level of uncertainty is enormous, making it hard to focus. I have no idea how the results of any national exams will be in any way fair or representative, given all this opening and closing, different levels of remote support and internet access issues. Of course, there is never a level playing field when it comes to education, but the difference in experiences this year are much more pronounced. Surely employers and universities will have to look at any exam results from 2020/21 and make some sort of accommodation for the kind of year these students have lived through. If not, large numbers of young people will not only face problems finding jobs, but even getting the qualifications they need to find jobs in the first place.

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