GCSEs: ‘Deafening silence’ over fairness expert group

Another 'car crash' summer awaits if details aren't released on how to address uneven learning gap, say heads
5th January 2021, 4:52pm
Catherine Lough

Share

GCSEs: ‘Deafening silence’ over fairness expert group

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/gcses-deafening-silence-over-fairness-expert-group
Secret

Heads have criticised the government over its "deafening silence" about the expert advisory group tasked with addressing the different levels of learning loss among GCSE and A-level students across the country.

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant students in certain regions facing lengthier periods of disruption to their education than in others.

But there have been no further details on how this differential learning loss will be taken into account in exam results since the Department for Education's expert group was announced in early December last year.

Concerns have been raised over the impact this has had on students' mental health, with one school leader reporting that A-level students are severely distressed by the lack of clarity.


GCSEs 2021: Covid impact may be flagged next to grades

Related: Secrecy over DfE Covid disruption advice

Exclusive: New school opening delay agreed by ministers


On 2 December, education secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to Dame Glenys Stacey, then Ofqual's chief regulator, announcing the creation of an "expert advisory group to provide advice to me on our ongoing response to the differential effect of the pandemic disruption that students are facing".

In December, it was reported that the group might recommend that students who had missed out on a disproportionate amount of learning owing to the pandemic could be given grades with a Covid-19 "asterisk" to help them progress on to further or higher education.

But at the time, schools minister Nick Gibb also said that the experts' advice would not be made public, as they would want to have "full and frank discussion". This was after Commons Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon said the meetings should be as transparent as possible.

Since then, there has been no further update on when the expert advisory group will meet, who has been appointed to it or what its remit will be, although Tes understands that a list of the appointed experts is currently with No 10.

When asked by Tes today when there would be an update, a DfE spokesperson said: "There isn't an update at the moment. More details will come in due course."

Headteachers have criticised the lack of "urgency" shown by government over the issue, warning that unless it is addressed, "we are in danger of ploughing into another car crash over GCSEs and A levels in the summer".

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The government really does need to get a move on in establishing the expert group on exams because time is fast slipping away.

"The idea of an expert group was put forward as its answer to doing more to address the crucial issue of differential learning loss - the fact that students will have been disrupted to greatly varying extents by the coronavirus pandemic.

"But since that announcement, there has been a deafening silence and no apparent progress. Once again, we seem to be seeing big statements followed up with no sense of urgency.

"We understand that these are difficult times and there are many competing demands but this issue of differential learning loss really is of pivotal importance, and if it is not addressed we are in danger of ploughing into another car crash over GCSEs and A levels in the summer."

And last week, Catherine Cole, principal of the Sixth Form College Farnborough, told the BBC's World at One that uncertainty over the group's decisions was leaving A-level students in severe distress.

"The A-level students are very anxious because in December they were told there would be some review of the exams for summer 2021, and then we were told nothing," she said.

"We had a meeting with an exam board to discuss it - still not heard anything; we were told a panel of experts would be set up by the government to work out what they were going to do with the exams - nothing.

"I don't know who the panel of experts is but for students, they hear these things and they're expecting an announcement and it's not coming, and the mental health of our second-year students - so that's a cohort of nearly 2,000…We've had more students presenting with suicidal thoughts than ever before, because they're just extremely anxious.

"And don't forget that the teachers are also under a lot of strain because they want to do the best for their students and at the moment it's very hard to forecast what the best will be," she added.

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters