Calls for GCSEs and A-levels grades to be set regionally this summer

Calls for GCSEs and A-levels grades to be set regionally this summer because of different level of Covid disruption across the country

  • Kate Green says students in badly hit regions should get ‘special consideration’
  • ‘Special consideration’ is often given to exam students with a long-term illness 
  • It comes after ministers refused calls to cancel GCSE and A-Level exams in 2021 

A Labour chief has called for GCSE and A-levels grades to be set regionally this summer because of different levels of coronavirus disruption across the country.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green says students in badly hit regions should get ‘special consideration’ – like exam students with long-term illnesses currently receive.

Her calls come as millions of students across the country missed months of in school-teaching during the first national Covid lockdown earlier this year.

And while schools across England were reopened to all children in June, low attendance and Covid outbreaks, particularly in high-risk areas such as Liverpool and Manchester, have continued to cause disruption.

In an interview with Tes, formerly known as the Times Educational Supplement, the Labour shadow minister said: ‘We do need to recognise regional variants in the learning experience that students have had this year – for example, in parts of the North West, we have seen very low attendance rates in schools.

A Labour chief has called for GCSE and A-levels grades to be set regionally this summer because of different levels of coronavirus disruption across the country. Pictured: Students taking exams (library image)

Shadow education secretary Kate Green (pictured) says students in badly hit regions should get ‘special consideration’ – like exam students with long-term illnesses currently receive 

‘So we’ve suggested that there needs to be some sort of regional dimension to the way that the results are norm-referenced, if you like, and that there should be proper consultation with local and regional governments in making sure the system is robust and fair to all students.’

Her comments come as figures from a Tes investigation reveal a huge disparity in case numbers in schools from different areas.

The figures show 94 per cent of Middlesbrough, which was set to be moved into a Tier 3 lockdown before national measures were introduced, saw Covid-19 cases, compared to just six per cent on the Isle of Wight.   

Schools across the country were closed in March to all but the children of key workers following the Covid-19 outbreak.

This year’s GCSE and A-Level students were given teacher-set exam results when tests across the country were cancelled.

Scotland has cancelled its GCSE equivalent for 2021, while Wales has also cancelled next year’s GCSE and A-Levels.

But exams are currently planned to go-ahead in England next year, though with some pushed back by three weeks.

Ms Green has suggest students in high-risk Covid areas, such as the north-west, could be given ‘special consideration’ in their exam results, meaning their overall grade can be adjusted.

Ms Green has suggest students in high-risk Covid areas, such as the north-west (pictured a sign in Liverpool showing the Covid alert level as Very High), could be given ‘special consideration’ in their exam results, meaning their overall grade can be adjusted

Calls for England to follow Wales and CANCEL all A-Level and GSCE exams in 2021

Ministers have faced calls to scrap A-Level and GCSE exams in England next summer after Wales axed its 2021 tests to help pupils affected by coronavirus lockdowns.

Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams said that next summer’s papers would be replaced by coursework and assessments to ensure ‘fairness’ in the system amid ongoing disruption to schools.

She said the ongoing pandemic made it ‘impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place’ and the decision ‘removes pressures from learners’.

Wales is the latest UK country to halt its exams programme for next year, after the summer 2020 grading system in England and Scotland descended into farce over computer-calculated grades.

Scotland has said its National 5 exams – equivalent to GCSEs – will be replaced by assessments next year.

So far exams in England have been delayed by three weeks to allow students to catch up, despite union demands for them to be completely abandoned.

Sarah Mulholland, head of policy at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said there was already a north/south divide in terms of attendance because of varying Covid rates.

‘What the Welsh education minister has realised – unlike Gavin Williamson – is that we’re at risk of repeating the same mistake we saw on results day this summer unless we change course now,’ she said.

‘It is either naive or wilfully ignorant of the Government to pretend that there is any hope of achieving a fair, level playing-field for pupils when there are huge disparities both in attendance and a child’s ability to work from home.’

But No10 earlier this week refused to follow Wales’s lead. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said today: ‘There is no change in our own position in relation to exams.

‘I think we have set out that they will take place slightly later this year to give students more time to prepare.

‘We fully understand that they have experience considerable disruption and it is right that we give them and their teachers that extra time.’

The Join Council for Qualifications (JCQ) says this can give given to students with long-term sickness, as well as those suffering a bereavement, being involved in a domestic crisis or participating in international sport.

According to TES, the Department of Education says it will set out its plans for next year’s exams in the ‘coming weeks’, while exam regulator Ofqal is ‘continuing to discuss contingency options for all likely scenarios with school and college leaders, and other stakeholders’.  

It comes as the it was revealed there have been more than 1,000 outbreaks of coronavirus in educational settings since schools reopened in September, according to the Government’s scientific advisers.

An outbreak or cluster is classed by Public Health England (PHE) as two or more positive cases of Covid-19 related to one setting.

A document released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) today said PHE indicated this had occurred at least 1,000 times in educational settings in England since September.

The way PHE reports the data does not detail how many people were infected in each incident.

For comparison, around 173 clusters or outbreaks involving two or more cases have occurred in hospitality venues, like pubs or restaurants, according to PHE surveillance reports.

SAGE clarified there is no direct evidence that transmission within schools plays a ‘significant contributory role’ in driving increased rates of infection among children. But it added ‘neither is there direct evidence to suggest otherwise’.

It said secondary school children played a ‘significantly higher role’ in spreading the virus between households between September and October — when the second wave began taking hold in Britain — compared to in the summer.  

Last week, the chief inspector of Ofsted warned some schools may be sending children home ‘too readily’ amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Amanda Spielman highlighted a rise in parents opting to home school this term – with many not having made an active decision to keep their child at home.

She said parents of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) pupils have been told that schools cannot accommodate their children due to Covid-19 risk assessments.

Speaking at the online National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC), the chief inspector called for a ‘simplification of government advice’ for schools to help parents and teachers as we enter winter.

‘There are indications that schools may sometimes be sending pupils home too readily,’ Ms Spielman told local authority professionals.

She highlighted a rise in the number of parents opting to home school this term – and ‘quite a proportion’ of the children have special educational needs.

Ms Spielman said: ‘And here, many parents haven’t made an active decision to keep their child at home – they’ve been told that schools can’t accommodate them.

Amanda Spielman highlighted a rise in parents opting to home school this term – with many not having made an active decision to keep their child at home

‘Because it’s too difficult, because Covid risk assessments won’t allow it. It’s deeply concerning and, understandably, many parents feel cut adrift.’

She added: ‘For the children with SEND that have been able to get back into education, it hasn’t been plain sailing either.

‘We’re hearing that many have suffered setbacks in their communication skills – probably down to having reduced social interaction for such a long time.

‘And, although some people are working really creatively to help families, this is an ongoing concern.

‘We’ll be looking at this more in the next report from our autumn visits.’

Her comments come after school attendance dropped from 89 per cent to 86 per cent in the week ahead of the October half-term break.

Around 82 per cent of secondary school pupils were in class on October 22, while attendance in primary schools dropped to 90%.

About 6 per cent to 7 per cent of state school pupils did not attend class for coronavirus-related reasons on October 22.

More than half (55 per cent) of secondary schools in England – and 20 per cent of primary schools – had at least one pupil self-isolating due to potential contact with a Covid-19 case inside the school on October 22, Department for Education (DfE) statistics show.

Government figures also show that the majority of secondary schools in England sent home at least one pupil because of coronavirus.

Schools are to blame for more than a thousand outbreaks of coronavirus since they reopened in September, SAGE documents reveal 

There have been more than 1,000 outbreaks of coronavirus in educational settings since schools reopened in September, the Government’s scientific advisers have suggested.

An outbreak or cluster is classed by Public Health England (PHE) as two or more positive cases of Covid-19 related to one setting. 

A document released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) today said PHE indicated this had occurred at least 1,000 times in educational settings in England since September.

The way PHE reports the data does not detail how many people were infected in each incident.

For comparison, around 173 clusters or outbreaks involving two or more cases have occurred in hospitality venues, like pubs or restaurants, according to PHE surveillance reports.

SAGE clarified there is no direct evidence that transmission within schools plays a ‘significant contributory role’ in driving increased rates of infection among children. But it added ‘neither is there direct evidence to suggest otherwise’.

It said secondary school children played a ‘significantly higher role’ in spreading the virus between households between September and October — when the second wave began taking hold in Britain — compared to in the summer.

There have been more than 1,000 outbreaks of coronavirus in educational settings since schools reopened in September. Pictured: A child at school at Arbours Primary Academy in Northampton, on September 2

The SAGE document, dated November 4 and published this afternoon, evaluated evidence on the role of children in the pandemic.

It said there is less evidence younger children are driving infections. 

SAGE said: ‘There is some evidence from contact tracing studies that pre-school and primary aged children are less susceptible to infection than adults (low-medium confidence). 

‘The evidence is more mixed for secondary aged children and older children seem to have similar rates to adults.’ 

The paper claimed children could ‘clearly’ bring infection into the household and transmit to other household members. 

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that there were instances only a child had tested positive in a household, which suggested they were the one bringing it into the home, as opposed to a parent. 

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they caught the coronavirus from their school.

And the data tends to suggest children are more likely to catch the coronavirus from a household member than a friend or teacher.   

SAGE argued that the role of schools in community transmission ‘cannot be easily considered in isolation from wider measures’.

Potential increases may emerge because opening schools enables other mixing to occur – such as parents being able to go to work, or socialising after dropping off children.

SAGE has said there is low risk to children of suffering severe clinical disease from Covid-19 but there are ‘significant educational, developmental and mental health harms’ to children from schools being closed.

It adds there is some evidence that epidemic growth restarted before the reopening of schools. 

It said secondary school children played a ‘significantly higher role’ in spreading the virus between households between September and October — when the second wave began taking hold in Britain — compared to in the summer

It comes after Dr Susan Hopkins, deputy director of Public Health England (PHE), said on November 2 children were ‘clearly most likely’ to catch the coronavirus in their home.  

Speaking on Times Radio Breakfast she said: ‘We know that, over the summer, families and people have been all back in work and going out and socialising, so there are many routes of infection and bringing it into the household.’ 

Schools, colleges, nurseries and universities will remain open during England’s month-long lockdown — which began on November 5. 

But there has been resistance from teachers and their unions.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said today: ‘We remain particularly concerned about the spread of the virus amongst older pupils and in secondary schools, especially given that we know that the prevalence of the virus has risen significantly since schools re-opened fully.

‘There are also worrying signs that older pupils could be playing a role in spreading the virus amongst family members, and this must be watched very closely.

‘Overall, it remains the case that all education staff are being asked to remain on the front line and it is incumbent upon the Government to do more to ensure that all pupils and staff are kept safe.

‘Routine testing and priority access to seasonal flu jabs are just two examples of how they could do this.’

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘We call on the Government to play a much more active role to suppress the transmission of Covid-19 within schools.

‘The situation is untenable and widespread disruption will continue unless the Government takes steps to get coronavirus under control in schools.’   

The National Education Union’s campaign to close schools and colleges as part of the one-month lockdown has gained more than 150,000 teachers backing. 

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said the Government was ‘failing communities’ by keeping schools open because there has been ‘a fifty-fold increase in infections in secondary schools alone since September’. 

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, and member of SAGE, argued ‘no major outbreaks’ have been reported in UK schools to date.

He said today: ‘Even small outbreaks in schools are more likely to involve the staff than the children.

‘There are no signs that the re-opening of schools in August (in Scotland) and in September (in England) has caused a significant public health problem.’

Professor Woolhouse said the document highlighted two things that need close monitoring.

‘First, older schoolchildren are testing positive in surveys at a higher rate than any other group except young adults. This is not surprising given that schools are operating much closer to normality than most other parts of society. 

‘Second, there is evidence that children are quite frequently bringing infection into households (without necessarily infecting anyone else). This is not surprising either; it follows from the first point.

‘A key question is whether transmission within schools is driving the epidemic and keeping R above 1.’ 

Dr Sarah Lewis, a senior lecturer in genetic epidemiology, University of Bristol, noted a recent research finding that teachers were no more likely to catch the coronavirus than in other professions.

She said: ‘[It] suggests the measures in place to reduce transmission in schools are working. It is also a positive development that the R-rate is now below one in Scotland, even though schools have remained opened since August.’

She added: ‘As anticipated by many scientists, this report shows with greater mixing, children are more likely to contract the virus, and they can transmit it, although evidence still suggests they are less susceptible than adults particularly younger children.

‘It is comforting to see that even with much more data the risk to children of having severe consequences from the virus is extremely low.’

Last week, all students and teachers in secondary schools and colleges in England were told to wear face coverings when moving around the premises under Government guidance.

It came after a leading medical figure warned that not closing secondary schools could lead to a longer lockdown in England. 

Andrew Hayward, a member of SAGE sub group the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), claimed there is ‘substantial transmission’ within secondary schools.  

Education unions attended a Department for Education (DfE) meeting, alongside PHE representatives, on Thursday to discuss data on transmission in schools. 

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The chief and deputy chief medical officers have been clear the balance of evidence is firmly in favour of schools remaining open, and have highlighted the damage caused by not being in education to children’s learning, development and mental health.

‘Children are at very low risk from the virus, and staff are not at higher risk than those working in other sectors.

‘We have strengthened the already rigorous measures schools are following to reduce transmission of the virus, including requiring face coverings in all secondary schools in communal areas outside classrooms.’

 

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