School pupils could face Covid exam hit that could last "decades" warns Leeds councillor

One of the most senior members of Leeds City Council has warned school pupils taking exams during the pandemic could face an unfair hit on their life chances for “decades”.

By Richard Beecham
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 4:45 am

The authority’s deputy leader Jonathan Pryor made the comments in a council scrutiny committee, claiming home learning for more disadvantaged children has often had to focus on whether or not they are fed, rather than learning.

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A senior council officer added headteachers were “under tremendous pressure” with pupils and staff being off sick with Covid-19, but without the same level of home-learning infrastructure that was in place during the early days of the pandemic.

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Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab) told the meeting the council was “very optimistic” exams would be able to take place during this school year. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab) told the meeting the council was “very optimistic” exams would be able to take place during this school year.

But he warned: “It is fair to say that the disruption is going to have a huge impact. I think it is important to remember that in the past few years, we have all been in the same storm but in different boats.

“Early on, the priority for headteachers was that children were fed, had brushed their teeth and had got out of bed at a reasonable time, whereas for more affluent areas it was ‘what worksheet do you want?’.

“Over the past two years, children have had such a different experience. I think there is going to be a national problem in terms of whether exams are giving a fair assessment of children’s chances for the rest of their lives. I don’t want to see the chances of some children to be affected for years or decades because of the past few years.

“I’m not sure I have all the answers, I’m not sure anyone has, but it is something I will be working on.”

Leeds City Council’s director of Children and Families Saleem Tariq confirmed that plans were in place for exams to go ahead.

He added: “It is important to acknowledge the level of disruption in schools at the moment. Whilst they will be going ahead as usual, there is likely to be an impact nationally.

“As we are talking to schools at the moment, they are reporting that, while their numbers of staff and pupils that were self isolating weren’t as high as they were at some points during the pandemic, it is much more mixed in terms of pupils that are missing.

“Previously they had bubbles of class groups and they would all go off and self-isolate, and it was relatively straightforward to set up online learning for all of them, but now that isn’t in place, it is much more disrupted across the system.”

He said there had been concerns around “four primary schools” which, while remaining open, were finding staff and pupil levels “really stretched”.

Mr Tariq added: “The sense we are getting from headteachers is of being under tremendous pressure.

“In general terms we are seeing a levelling off, and a reduction in terms of Omicron rates, but rates among children under 12, because there is no vaccination programme for them, are still quite high, so that is continuing to create disruption.”

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