Commenting on a new report by the Children’s Commissioner published today (Tuesday 29 September 2020) on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on children in England over the last six months, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:
“Throughout this pandemic, young people have had an extremely raw deal, often seemingly an afterthought for government. To avoid irreparable damage to a generation the government must bring children and young people to the front of the queue for help.
“We agree with the Children’s Commissioner that the early years are crucial to life chances. Children who start school already behind often find it difficult, even impossible, to catch up later, even with additional help. A good way to mitigate the damage caused by coronavirus for young children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is by investing in early years education and family services. In addition, social care and health-led provision for pupils with SEND needs to be fully reinstated as soon as possible.
“We also agree that the money the government has already promised to schools to help with both academic catch-up and wellbeing must not be swallowed up by the costs inherent in the way schools are now forced to operate. We know from our members that PPE and cleaning supplies alone account for a massive extra cost on schools, which is not being reimbursed by government, let alone the emerging cost of supply teachers as staff are forced to isolate due to not being able to access a test when displaying covid-19 symptoms. The government must face up to the reality of these costs or money that should be going directly to help children may never reach them.
“However, we remain concerned about proposals that next year’s summer exams should be pushed back. While that initially sounds like it would help students have more time to learn and prepare, it could have a disastrous effect on students’ experience. Delaying the exam series, while still needing to generate results in time for university offer deadlines, would necessitate a compression of the exam series, meaning more exams for young people in a much shorter space of time. Given how high stakes these tests are, this could only add to the unfairness and inequity of the situation, could lead to further disadvantage for some students over others, and would certainly have a negative impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing.
“This cohort of Year 11 and 13 have already had their first year’s learning disrupted by lockdown, the second is being disrupted by self-isolation and local lockdowns, and they are facing a set of exams which have not yet been adapted to be fair to all. Add to that a shorter exam period when every year prior and after them had them spread over the normal 6 weeks, and it’s stacking up to be a pretty awful experience for them.
“There are other options which should be looked at and the government needs to be making plans now. Ongoing teacher assessments could end up being crucial this year – we should be looking at how we use a range of measures rather than assuming things can be fixed by simply delaying the exams. If 2020 has shown us nothing else, it is that relying solely on a series of high-stakes exams means that we are left with no other options if things go wrong. We cannot repeat our mistakes or leave everything until the last minute again – young people deserve a proper plan for once. Unfortunately there are currently few signs that the authorities who presided over this year’s chaos have learned the right lessons or are acting quickly enough to avoid another mess.”
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