Voices of the Future: The North South divide in our schools created by Covid

In this week’s column, featuring the brightest young writers across Leeds, Aamina-noor Shah assess the impact that the Covid-19
pandemic has had on secondary schools.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 6:00 am
Has coronavirus created a north south divide within our secondary schools? Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

During the second lockdown, the Government reiterated its commitment to keeping schools open.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has stood by this decision stating that “We must protect the NHS and it is very important we keep schools and colleges open.” Many have claimed that schools are the safest place for children to be for their wellbeing and yet pupil attendance is currently at the lowest rate it has been since schools re-opened. Last week, attendance dropped down to 83 per cent.

This has meant that nearly 900,000 students are currently out of school because of Covid related incidents.

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Since the start of the second lockdown, new measures have been introduced into schools to increase safety. One-way systems, staggered break times and hand sanitiser stations have been somewhat helpful. However, as the situation deteriorates within schools and cases continue to rise, it becomes clear that this is not enough. The absence of face masks inside classrooms, the size of bubbles and the lack of social distancing between students on school transport is a big cause of concern.

There has also been great concern about how exams will go ahead next summer when three quarters of secondary schools have sent pupils home. The education secretary has announced that exams will still go ahead next year as they are the fairest and most accurate way to measure pupils’ attainment. For GCSE and A-level exams, the government has decided to reduce content and push back exams by three weeks. This, however, does not indicate how they plan to address the disparities in teaching that so many students have faced this year.

Many students living in areas with high cases, like the North East and Yorkshire, will have missed multiple weeks, if not months, of school this year. For Yorkshire, this will continue to be a problem as the majority of the region remains in tougher tier three restrictions throughout December.

The disparities that exist within the education system have been heavily exacerbated because of the coronavirus pandemic.Attendance in secondary schools in the north has been far lower than their counterparts in the south. Some statistics have shown secondary school attendance to be as low as 61 per cent. The lobbying group, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, have been very vocal in their warnings that going ahead with exams next year will disadvantage northern students.

The higher cases in the north have already led to a significant number of students missing more than a month of school already. Many students also aren’t able to learn online due to a lack of computing equipment, with many schools facing shortages. The Northern Powerhouse Partnership wants to see coursework being used to assess GCSE and A-Level students instead of exams. This would allow students to be assessed throughout the year rather than relying on a single exam or predicted grades.