(A) School and college staff need resources or alternative arrangements for attendance, in order to cope and provide the necessary support to their students. Without such support, there will be long-term consequences.
We have become acutely aware of the stresses and strains felt this term by the staff and students in our schools and colleges. There are reports of absence rates varying from 95% down to the low 80%. Some staff and students have had difficulty getting tested when necessary. Many schools have a very large increase in the number of students with safeguarding issues, often with long-term effects making huge demands on the pastoral teams that might not be sustainable through this academic year. This is in addition to the expected mental health needs.
(B) We believe that the case for cancelling the examinations is increasing. Even if a vaccine is found, it will be administered too late to make up for the learning lost by so many students, especially (though not only) those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We are hearing increasing comments about examinations in 2021 bringing additional stress for staff and students, because they will not be a fair assessment of performance of individual students. Many students will be disadvantaged by lack of learning this year and lack of proper preparation or inability to sit them.
The teacher unions’ joint statement before the start of term made sense. However, their proposals for assessment of those disadvantaged by the pandemic have not been adequately taken up by government. This week (9 November 2020), the EPI (Education Policy Institute) has published a report outlining what should happen, with some good suggestions. The National Tutoring programme is being implemented too slowly at too much cost to schools and we understand the National Mentoring programme is targeted by area rather than by estimated student needs in each school. The government cannot continue to claim that formal examinations are the fairest way to assess all students in the current circumstances.
We call for the government to prepare and publish a detailed strategy this term worked out in consultation with teacher representatives stating:
EXAMINATIONS CANCELLED, detailing a fair alternative assessment system; we suggest this be along the lines of teacher assessment including in-course assessments and a ‘mock exam’ directed by exam boards but flexibly marked by teachers as recommended by the EPI.