Dear madam: letters to the editor 18/9/20

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss making wellbeing a priority and IGCSE exams

Tes Editorial

Tes letters to the editor 18/9/20: Wellbeing in schools amid the coronavirus, and IGCSE exams

Let's put wellbeing at the heart of school life

We are now weeks into the new term and it is evident that we have no bigger priority in schools than supporting the recovery of young people’s wellbeing. We have seen young people return to school anxious, vulnerable and in need of support. All of the things Sir John Townsley, chief executive officer of The GORSE Academies Trust, references in his opinion article "We must put pupil wellbeing above all else" (Tes, September 2020).

As a group of 33 teachers and headteachers representing 23,219 young people, we are encouraging every school leader to put wellbeing at the heart of school life. Wellbeing should permeate all aspects of culture and every element of education, including teachers. Their wellbeing is fundamental to school climate and great teaching and learning.

With the help of the charity Youth Sport Trust and the Bupa Foundation, we will be launching a new community of Well Schools to share expertise, resources and advice with every school that wants to join us on this journey.  

As Sir John Townsley wrote: “While we can talk about pre-Covid and post-Covid worlds, the reality is that this new academic year is starting while we are still in the middle of a pandemic, the ramifications of which are still not yet fully understood.” We couldn’t agree more. Young people in the UK are among the most unhappy and least satisfied in Europe and the evidence shows this correlates with lower achievement and attainment, too. The case for change could not be more compelling.

We believe supporting young people’s and teachers' wellbeing should be the greatest priority for schools now, and into the future, and this must not fall victim to a narrowing of the curriculum and over-focus on academic catch-up at this time.

We invite every headteacher, teacher and school worker to join the Well School movement on 22 September. Find out more at

Sian Hall, St Breock Primary School; Tracey Ward, Stanley Grove Primary Academy; Chris Oke, Swindon Academy; Jeremy Hannay, Three Bridges Primary School; Scott Pennock, Wallace High School; Chris Dyson, Parklands Primary School; Matt Carroll, Rushbrook Primary Academy; Sean Doyle, Shenley Brook End School; Neil Reynolds, South Shore Academy; Emma Rowland, Park House School; Ben Levinson, Kensington Primary School; Sarah Wilcock, Manchester Communication Academy; Alice Coyle, Marton Primary Academy and Nursery; Sue Warner, Melland High School; Steven Loder, Mullion School; Nia Rees Williams, Conwy Healthy Schools; Will Smith, Coombe Wood School; Dougie Keast, Crown Hills Community College; Jane Young, Durham Trinity School & Sports College; Suzzanne Ijewsky, Friars Academy; Annabelle Harder, Gamlingay Village Primary; Jayne Allen, Highfields School; Janice Allen, Falinge High School; Sam Davidson, Carter Community School; Michelle Bennett, Cedar Mount Academy; Kevin Byrne, Clare Mount Specialist Sports College; Neil McAvoy, Clavering Primary School; Stephen Munday, Comberton Village College; Susan Foster, Arran High School; Sarah Connon, Ashton Community Science College; David Bailey, Biddenham International School and Sports College; Adrian Bethune, Broughton Junior School

IGCSE students are being treated appallingly

I am exasperated by Cambridge International exam board’s treatment of students taking the October/November round of IGCSE exams this year.

Like all Ofqual-approved boards, Cambridge cancelled exams in May/June, and, in the end, awarded students results on the basis of predicted grades. But the exam board is taking an unfair and discriminatory approach for this new round, insisting that exams must go ahead, and flatly saying to any students who cannot safely take exams that they will instead have to wait until the May/June 2021 round to take their exams.

This is grossly unfair. I write from the Southern hemisphere, where, due to the school calendar, the October/November round of exams is the main session (these are not resits).

In Brazil, for example, schools closed in March and at the time of writing are not yet permitted to reopen; coronavírus rates across the country continue to be extremely high and way above anything in Europe. According to the latest edition of The Economist, over 90 per cent of schools in Latin America remain closed.

As another example, Cambridge International has many students in South Asia, where coronavirus rates are frighteningly high. 

We have written to Cambridge International repeatedly. It insists that students either take the exams or wait until the next session in May 2021, and refuses to offer any alternative form of assessment. This puts students under immense pressure.

In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, many students and parents are seriously worried about the risk of returning to schools and exam halls; many simply won’t be able to due to local restrictions.

And no one thinks it is reasonable to have a delay in their education forced upon them through absolutely no fault of their own. Cambridge International asserts that “most” of its schools want exams to go ahead. We have asked it to show evidence of this but it has not responded.

Of course, even for those students who can take exams, they are less prepared than previous cohorts – schools across the world have been closed for months. Online education helps, to an extent, but elements of the curriculum, such as practical experiments in sciences and simply one-to-one teacher time, have not been possible.

As a parent, I am exasperated. As an experienced teacher at both secondary and primary level, I am appalled by this unfair treatment of students.

Philippa Wood
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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