The letter below was published in the Daily Telegraph and co-signed by 41 signatories including Tim Coulson, Chief Executive of Unity Schools Partnership.
We write to express our growing concern about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on young people in our schools, particularly those preparing for public examinations in 2021. Pupils in areas most ravaged by Covid-19 face significantly greater challenges than those who have avoided repeated episodes of self-isolation, and many of these are in less advantaged areas of the country. The link between poverty and infection rate is evident.
No examination can be considered fair unless it takes into account the inequality exacerbated by this pandemic. The Government’s mandating of remote education for pupils unable to attend school means school leaders must provide continuity of learning but does not bridge the gap. However sophisticated online lessons may be, they are less effective than face-to-face teaching at school; furthermore, the disadvantaged pupils most likely to be self-isolating are the least likely to have access to the quiet learning environment, reliable technology and additional resources needed to make remote learning a success.
Recognising the unique pressures on the 2021 cohort, Ofqual has reduced subject content a little but this will not level the playing-field. Catch-up provision and access to tuition are also welcome, but account has not yet been taken of inequality deepened by coronavirus in the allocation of funding.
We can’t allow those young people already disadvantaged by an educational gap caused by deprivation to have their prospects further limited by a ‘Covid penalty’.
Examinations are competitive. Grade boundaries are adjusted to ensure parity of results between years, not to compensate for factors beyond pupils’ control. Our disadvantaged pupils, solely because they are being subjected to disruption in their schooling far greater than their peers, are increasingly less likely to achieve the high grades that will pave their progression path to prestigious sixth forms, apprenticeships and universities. This matter requires urgent mitigatory action.
Ministers have been clear that examinations will take place in 2021. We agree. However, hundreds of thousands of young people risk having their results decided by the relative fortunes of their postcode. Steps must be taken to ensure exam grades are issued fairly and to guarantee there will be no difference in the proportion of good grades awarded in areas blighted by Covid and those far less disrupted.
We believe that the Government, who have expressed a commitment to levelling-up, will take this differential loss of learning into account. For the sake of children, their families and their teachers, this confirmation is needed soon. Otherwise there will be another summer of huge upset and the futures of thousands of young people from our most vulnerable communities will be unfairly damaged.