‘There is time to sort it out’ – senior Leeds councillor warns Government over A Levels and GCSEs

A senior Leeds politician has called on the Government to re-think its strategy on school exams for the current academic year, warning that areas facing large numbers of Covid-related quarantines could lead to a north-south divide in pupil attainment.

Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 5:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 5:34 pm

Leeds City Council’s executive board member responsible for schools, Coun Jonathan Pryor, said the Government’s plans to hold exams this summer did not contain enough detail about contingencies for children who have missed school due to Covid-19.

It comes after he sent the Government a letter, co-signed by the council’s opposition deputy leader, which warns the current situation has left teachers “exhausted” and many poorer pupils disadvantaged.

The Government announced next summer’s exams will start on 7 June and end on 2 July for almost all AS/A levels and GCSEs.

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Schools are facing tough challenges for the year ahead, claim senior councillors.

Coun Pryor said: “You will have some children in the south who may not go through [quarantine] at all this year; it will be different in terms of their education.

“Teachers are focussing on children’s wellbeing and government saying they will delay the exams is not enough.

“There are a few issues with teacher-led assessments and it may put more pressure on teachers that are overworked already.

“The Government has to acknowledge the path they are going down will not work. We want the Government to act now with the exams – there is time to sort it out.”

So might exams be scrapped? Coun Pryor is not so sure.

“There is a chance that we may be in a position where social bubbles are collapsing,” he added. “What will happen if a significant number of children are isolating at home while others are taking exams – do they take the exam home? Do they do the exams two weeks later? Do they do different sets of exams?

“I don’t think the Government has really got to grips with how much the exams are going to be affected.”

The letter sent this week to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson by Coun Pryor, which was co-signed by Leeds Conservatives group deputy leader Alan Lamb, asks the Government to look again at its strategy around exams.

It read: “We note the Government’s announcement on 12 October 2020 which makes clear to go ahead with GCSE, AS and A level exams in England next summer, and we welcome the Government’s intention to undertake further work to consider the range of scenarios which might impact students’ ability to sit exams and to develop contingency plans in consultation with the education sector over the coming weeks. We would like to add the following considerations to the debate.

“Current transmission rates of Covid 19 in Leeds are above the national average and many pupils are missing in-school learning as they are made to isolate at home either waiting for Covid-19 test results or as a result of their year or class ‘bubble’ collapsing following a positive coronavirus case.

“Staff absence for the same reason leads to further loss of specialist input. Therefore any contingency plans must not only take into account potential exam disruption but also the amount of lost learning which will disproportionately affect many young people in Leeds.”

The letter added that contingency plans should also make allowances for disadvantaged pupils who may not have access to resources, such as laptops, or the space to help with their work while being away from school.

It added: “The Scrutiny Board acknowledges the efforts that the Government made to provide disadvantaged pupils with devices on which to access remote learning, but there were still pupils left without suitable devices, or who had received them after the national lockdown.”

The letter also called on the Government to consider the extra strain placed on teachers during the lockdown, claiming many felt “exhausted” by the extra workloads caused by Covid-19.

It stated: “If contingency plans involve any form of additional teacher-based assessment or externally moderated centre-based assessments, then schools and colleges themselves will also need to have sufficient support and resource measures put in place now to allow them to make the necessary preparations.

“Given the complexity around assessment, we believe that it would be inappropriate for government to publish performance tables in 2021.”

The Department for Education has been contacted for a comment.