Can teachers allow students to repeat the year?

GCSE and A-level exams will resume in 2021, but will students be ready and what are the rules and implications of them repeating a year?

repeating a year

After almost three months of school closures, who will decide if GCSE and A-level candidates in Years 10 and 12 can repeat this year and whether it is necessary?

Who would pay for it? How much would it cost and what could be the alternative? 

Tes explores some of the questions and answers in what is becoming more of a talking point as lockdown continues.  

Why is repeating years a talking point?

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has insisted that exams will take place next year – but there are serious doubts about whether Year 10 and 12 students, who have missed a great amount of time, will be ready.

Former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has made the case at least twice that they should repeat the year

He said: “If I was a parent of a child in Year 10 or Year 5, I’d want them to have the same opportunities as other children and if they’ve lost out then I think it’s up to schools and up to government to make sure they are given that opportunity."

Are schools allowed to let students repeat the year?

The Department for Education guidance says it’s up to heads to make the call “if they think it is appropriate”. But it says that “such decisions should be based on sound educational reasons and in consultation with parents”.

Does the DfE think this is needed because of coronavirus lost learning?

The DfE says it does not currently anticipate that children and young people will need to repeat a school year as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Its guidance states: “We continue to look at all options to make sure children and young people get the support they need to continue their education during the coronavirus outbreak and make up for time spent out of school.”

And heads' view?

Headteachers whom Tes has spoken to are not planning for any extra students to repeat this year.

Louise Lee, principal of Chalk Hills Academy in Luton, said rates of online learning had been high and therefore students will only have missed around 3 per cent of the year when they return. She said: “We have offered a strong timetable of blended learning through our online portals. Take-up rates for our online platform are high and we have been impressed with levels of student engagement.”

Dave Collins, headteacher of Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, said the school allowed some Year 12 students to repeat the year in any case – for example, if they had chosen the wrong course.

But he said: “I think we have supported the Year 10 and 12s well during lockdown and we can recover lost time. Also, our current Year 10 have undertaken a three-year KS4 [key stage 4]; not Ofsted’s current preference, but this means that they cover significant content in Year 9 and are probably not as far behind as those students who have undertaken a two-year KS4.”

Is funding available to allow students to repeat the year?

Yes, according to the DfE. It says schools will continue to be funded for all their students, including those that remain in the school because they have repeated a year. 

Are there any downsides?

There are potentially huge logistical problems for organising exams and university entrance. One high-profile former head Sir Mike Griffiths was quick to dismiss Sir Michael Wilshaw's suggestion that Year 10 and Year 12 repeat the year, tweeting: "Zero admissions to HE in 2021? Double numbers doing GCSE and A level in 2022? Won’t work, Sir Mike!"   

And despite the DfE's reassurance, teachers are still concerned about the funding and staffing implications of repeating the year.

One maths teacher in Devon, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that even if half of Year 10 were to repeat the year (based on a model of 90 students), it could cost more than £100,000 per school just on the costs of three extra teachers' salaries alone. And then there would be the cost of the extra classrooms and pastoral care.

He said: “I suspect if it were done with any great numbers in Year 10 it would have some fairly problematic funding and staffing issues.”

Dave Collins said schools could potentially end up with two Year 10s unless every year group in a school repeated the year.  

So it is likely that many students will end up repeating the year?

There are other options, including that put forward by shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey who says that GCSEs and A-level curriculum content should be cut – because expecting students to catch up on missed lessons would widen inequality gap.

She said: “We need to see a review of the curriculum and a review of future assessments so that [next year’s] GCSE and A levels actually take account of lost work so that pupils aren’t forced to catch up.

“If we don’t do that, what we are going to see when we get back to the classroom is those students who are in families where their parents are lucky enough be able to afford tutors, or those who can hothouse, will catch up very quickly. And everybody else won’t be able to do that.

The Devon maths teacher said: ”I guess they could also look at moving the exams later in the term [next year], but this would have knock-on effects on the marking and use of results for applications.”

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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