Simon Barnes from TLC LIVE explores why the latest U-Turn on GCSE & A Level exam results could result in children outside of mainstream education falling even further behind as they did not receive predicted grades and will have to sit exams in autumn
While the public’s attention has understandably been fixed on the backlash against the algorithmically adjusted A-level results and the subsequent U-turn, a small but significant subset of students faces another crisis. These are GCSE students around the country who did not receive predicted grades.
For Ofqual to accept a student’s predicted grades, the student must be in full-time education, but this isn’t an option for some students with medical conditions and other vulnerable students. These students are left with no choice but to continue studying and sit the exams in November if they hope to earn their GCSEs.
Unfortunately, the government didn’t seem to recognise that these disadvantaged students need support. Despite announcing the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) in June, the programme has not yet started, leaving already struggling students at risk of falling even further behind.
No predicted grades
After a chaotic process, the government has decided to award students the grades that their teachers predicted for them, the so-called centre assessment grade (CAG). However, for students that are unable to attend school in-person, Ofqual has made it extremely difficult to get predicted grades.
At TLC LIVE, we have witnessed the impact of this decision first-hand. For instance, one of the students we work with recently left a young offenders institute and had been receiving tuition as a stop gap until a full-time school place could be found. Although substantial evidence was submitted to Ofqual for them to support their grade predictions, they were not recognised by them. The requirement for students to attend traditional schools has a disproportionate impact on students who are already at a disadvantage, and this year has made that painfully clear.
Students without support
Since many students outside of the mainstream do not have predicted grades, they must instead sit exams in November (or whenever the dates for exams are set). This could be a fair alternative if the government had stepped up to provide these students with adequate academic support in the lead-up to these exams – but they haven’t.
Worse yet, the government has suggested that the NTP will not come into effect until November – the very same month that these students are set to have their exams. This is an unconscionable failure. Every student deserves to have basic support so that they have a chance to achieve their full potential. Still, instead of making the funds available immediately and getting the NTP underway after the announcement to spend with tutors. those disadvantaged students are still waiting for the help that was promised. We at TLC LIVE are still delivering thousands of lessons over the summer period but there is so much more we could be doing.
A further blow to student wellbeing
Students have already gone through a trying process of stress, uncertainty, and rapidly moving goalposts. For many, this has understandably dented their motivation and engagement in the classroom, and the lack of action to support students before their November exams sends the clear signal that things aren’t set to improve.
Additionally, students who need to sit the November exams to gain admission to a college will have missed the beginning of the term almost three months prior, and so will be forced to take a year out. By the time they have their results, likely early in 2021, they will have to wait the better part of a year for next September when they can re-enter the education system. This incredible gap will almost certainly further demoralise students and could potentially encourage them to leave the education system for good.
What can we do?
Nobody was expecting perfection in this unusual year, but few could have predicted that vulnerable children and children with medical conditions would get such a raw deal. The failure to implement the catch-up programme promptly, when numerous tutoring organisations could have stepped up to the plate, is unjustifiable, and every day that goes by is another missed opportunity to provide these students with the support they deserve.
We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by the positive resolution of the A-levels crisis and allow disadvantaged students to risk falling further behind – the government must outline its plans to support these students and act to provide catch-up funds immediately.
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