The Summer exam seasons of 2020 and 2021 have been like no other. Both cohorts of students have not had the chance to sit their public exams, and instead have been graded according to teacher-assessment.
What will this mean for their futures?
The Government announced last week that schools across the UK would receive £400 million to help pupils make up for lost learning throughout the pandemic. This would be in addition to the £1 billion announced in June, and £300 million last month. There is no doubt the support is there – but many believe the damage the education sector has suffered is irreversible. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that school closures could cost each pupil up to £40,000 over their working lives. There are currently 8.7 million children of school age in the UK, and this would incur a total loss of £350 billion in income.
While much of the damage to the education sector could not be helped, the government dealt its fair share in exacerbating the situation. Let us not forget the ‘Exams Fiasco’ of 2020 where Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, performed a ‘U-Turn’ from using an algorithm to determine student’s grades, to using the originally suggested teacher assessment grades. Admittedly, he was carving new ground for exam results in a pandemic, but the public’s sympathy has only stretched so far. Former Labour Education Secretary, Estelle Morris commented “To be a really successful secretary of state for education, you’ve got to be both political and educational. But Gavin Williamson is almost all about Politics.”
Every sector has struggled in some way or another, but the education sector is the foundation block for the future success of the country. Pupils have not merely lost out on academic learning, there will be a lack in progression of mental and physical health, financial stability and social skills. It is painful to think that pupils will not be presented with educational opportunities as a result of the pandemic, which could set them off-track for a long time. Schools also provide significant help to parents, providing childcare so they can work, and for disadvantage families providing free school meals (following the widely supported campaign run by footballer Marcus Rashford MBE). Standing at the heart of the community, schools must be given the support they require to catch up from the loss of the pandemic.
The Education Endowment Foundation has produced reports on the impact of school closures and focuses on the gap in attainment for Key Stage 1 pupils (years 1 and 2) and it found that “primary-age pupils have significantly lower achievement in reading and maths as a likely result of missed learning. In addition, there is a large and concerning attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils”.
It must be a core priority of the government in aiming to close this gap.
There are however some signs of positivity emerging from the darkness of the pandemic. Due to the nationwide appreciation and exceptional support of the NHS for its frontline and all key workers, there has been a 32% increase in students applying for nursing courses. People will begin to seek secure and stable jobs after a period of rife uncertainty, and this is no bad thing. Professor Mark Radford, Chief Nurse from Health Education England said “the tireless and outstanding commitment of all our nurses over the past year – from students and practising professionals to those who’ve returned to work to help with the pandemic response – is the best possible advert for the nursing profession”.
It is not impossible to make up for lost time in the education sector. The government must lead by example and provide what is required of them in the aftermath, especially under the careful watch of a generation looking for answers.