To return or not to return?

Many of us are keen for the kids to get back to school, but there is also anxiety about everything opening up too soon and about uncertainty for the exam years.

education and school concept little student girl studying at school


The debate over schools returning began as soon as they closed. The impact of homeschooling has been huge on both children and parents, with women – according to ONS statistics, most likely to have been in charge of homeschooling.

A report out last week from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that, during the first lockdown, the longer schools were closed, the less work pupils did, particularly secondary school students. The report highlights the inequality gap for Covid schooling, saying children from better-off families not only spent more time learning at home than their disadvantaged peers – they also increased their learning time by more when they returned to the classroom. It calls for targeted support for disadvantaged children on their return to school.

Special needs education

Meanwhile a report from Special Needs Jungle focuses on the impact on special needs education. It finds “a widespread failure to restore disabled children’s SEND provision” when children returned to school in the Autumn Term 2020, with many disabled children prevented from returning to school at all. Based on a survey of parents, it found eight per cent of respondents reported that they had no placement to send their child back to.

The case for returning to school and for targeting support is clear. It’s the way it is done that is up for debate – whether it is gradual, whether teachers are vaccinated first and so forth. I think we’ve all learnt over the year that caution is necessary with Covid. The November experience of fast rising rates in schools, particularly in certain parts of the country, and lethargic government reaction [even threatening to sue schools for closing early when they knew just how bad things were] is still very vivid despite the fact that the Covid news agenda moves on at pace. Schools are at the sharp end and they seem better able to judge these things.

Exam uncertainty

One thing is the return to school, though, and another is the whole assessment issue. I have kids in GCSE, A Level and Sats years. The first two have faced a month and a half of not knowing what is happening with their exams. Their schools have been fantastic, but they cannot impart any information at all because they don’t have any. Instead we get emails about a series of potential mocks and other forms of assessment. Daughter three has Remote Learning Check-ups [“RLCs”] in the first week of March which she will do at home. They are exams to check how she is doing. No pressure…except in an information vacuum, it seems likely that any tests are going to contribute to the teacher assessment that we are told is replacing GCSEs and A Levels. So, in fact, there is maximum pressure.

Daughter three has been so worried that she has been scouring the news to find out what might be happening, and there is no shortage of rumours. She told me she read that assessments might take the form of an interview, which terrified her. She heard that she might have to repeat the year when she is desperate to get to sixth form and her sister just wants to check out of school altogether. How can it take so long for the powers that be to decide these things? Shouldn’t they have been considering this scenario for months following last year’s fiasco? It seems they bet everything on exams going ahead as normal and failed to prepare adequately for alternative outcomes.

It’s not only the lack of face to face schooling that has been the problem; the lack of information has been one of the most troubling aspects of all of this for many young people and that is something that was in the Government’s power to do something about.

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