Half of a Leeds school's students have been invited back to the classroom as they are too vulnerable to be at home in lockdown

If 2020 was a set back to education, then 2021 could put students at an even further disadvantage warns a Leeds headteacher.

By Emma Ryan
Monday, 25th January 2021, 6:00 am

While there has been much debate about exams and ways to grade at secondary level, the principal of an alternative provision, which has 150 of some of the most challenging young people in the city, says he is "very worried" about the futures of his pupils.

Andrew Foster said it is a very real possibility that his current year 11s will be knocked back a year, delaying them being able to take on post-16 courses such as NVQs and apprenticeships.

He says in the absence of exams, if students are graded dependent upon what work they have done in school - then the grades will not accurately reflect or open up pathways to their potential.

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Andrew Foster, principal at the Stephen Longfellow Academy.

The Stephen Longfellow Academy, near Beeston, is an alternative provision run by the GORSE Trust and caters for young people for a variety of reasons, which means that mainstream school is not appropriate for them and they have become disengaged with learning in a normal school environment.

It may be that they have mental health issues, social circumstances, special educational needs or an Education Health and Care Plan, a legally binding document drawn up with the local authority.

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Compared to their peers in mainstream school, learning from home is not as easy and online lessons and live lessons would not be effective. Their progress could be measured by something as simple as just turning up, rather than course-work or tests.

The Stephen Longfellow Academy in Leeds.

The principal, who has worked in secondary education for 37 years says he is worried as these students are already on the back foot in trying to make their way in life.

He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "I am worried, I am very worried. My concern is that if you look at year 11, they are currently doing post 16 applications - our careers officer is doing these at home. If they stop learning now it is difficult to know how they are going to measure the majority of our students. If there are no exams we will have to do some sort of mock when lockdown is finished.

"Our students are being compared to mainstream, their final grades won't reflect their ability. I don't know how we do it...but we have got to get them back to speed. The problem of knocking them back a year is literally what could happen."

For example, he explained that based upon GCSE or A-Level results, they may only be able to access level 1 NVQs and wait a year before they can take level two - which, had there not been school closures, they may have been able to jump straight to.

He added: "We say about 2020 but 2021, if it continues like this will certainly be interesting."

When the lockdown was announced at the beginning of January, after an emergency planning day, it was decided that Stephen Longfellow would invite its 50 most vulnerable students to still attend school - as much for safe-guarding purposes as education.

By the end of last week, a total of 67 devices, such as Chromebooks, has been delivered to some the students who the school knows is safe at home and able to engage with learning.

The school has also increased its resources and as of today (Monday) a further 20 students have been asked to return to the classroom in person.

Mr Foster said: "If we know a student is safe at home and engaging with home-learning, that is the best place - it is a lockdown. While we have got about 50 that fall into that category we have got 100 other students, if they don't feel safe or are vulnerable we invite them in. If they are safe but not engaging we are doing visits every week or ever day."

Pastoral care is at the heart of the work Stephen Longfellow does and therapy and counselling services are a huge part of what the academy does. It has an 80 per cent rate of attendance which is 20 per cent above the national average for similar schools. Two years ago the school had a rate of 80 per cent of pupils not considered NEET (not in education, employment and training). That figure is now 88 per cent.

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