COVID-19 education policy: Deprived students hit hardest

School closures have undeniably been one of the biggest hardships of lockdown. Parents up and down the country have been struggling with home schooling, and schools have had to adapt quickly. This has been exceptionally difficult for schools in the most deprived areas of the country. 

As well as academic support, these schools have had to make provisions for pupils without adequate internet access, whose only meal some days will be a free school lunch, and those in unstable households. Parents have had to navigate changes to their work or even job losses while having to teach their children with limited resources, in a highly stressful environment. 

It became apparent that the most deprived students would be the worst affected by exam results when Scottish pupils collected theirs on the 4th of August. Pupil’s results were decided not only on their own previous attainment — but their school’s results history too. Effectively, if you were an A Grade student at a poorly performing state school, your marks went down through no fault of your own. 

Some students are urging others to join legal action against Ofqual and the Department for Education.

The higher pass rate for pupils in the most deprived areas decreased by 15.8%, compared to just 6.9% for the wealthiest pupils. After widespread criticism, the Scottish government amended the results, which now show a rise in attainment across the board. Scotland set the precedent for the rest of the UK to follow. After last minute changes, 40% of English student’s grades were lowered, and in Wales 42% of grades were lowered below centre assessed grades. 

Social media has been flooded with pupils outraged about downgraded results. Some students are urging others to join legal action against Ofqual and the Department for Education. There have been protests in London and Cardiff, as well as calls for the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, to resign. Williamson previously defended the algorithm saying it was ‘robust’ and ‘fair’, before the Welsh, Northern Irish, and English governments made a U-Turn to award predicted grades to both A Level and GCSE students.

I spoke to a Head of Year 13 at a North London School who said the lack of action to amend results before publication following Scotland’s precedent, and the delayed apology, showed “a level of arrogance” from the government. She had expressed that the moderated grades had been “really quite damning for some students”. After receiving no help or guidance in setting up online and distance learning, these results have worsened an already stressful situation for young people. Online learning was simply not viable for some students, where one computer had to be shared between parents working from home and other siblings. 

the most valid solution to this problem would have been to award students their predicted grades.

This school has also set up a foodbank to help families dealing with redundancies and loss of income. She expressed frustration that schools and universities were not consulted in making the algorithm, which has led to confusion and inconsistency. Williamson assured students they could use their mock and predicted grades to appeal to universities, however many were not considering these. 

Another teacher I spoke to, at a large sixth form in Hampshire, also expressed that although some universities such as Portsmouth were honouring predicted grades, the vast majority were not. Both of these women felt that the most valid solution to this problem would have been to award students their predicted grades, they felt that this was a more reliable process. 

Although the U-Turn has been welcomed, a number of overwhelmingly working class students have already been rejected by their first choices, and have gone through clearing. Will those who now meet the requirements be awarded places, or indeed can they? 

As universities may have already allocated all of their places, some young people may be forced to defer entry until 2021. If this is true it may cause further issues for working class students. Deferring would mean they would not receive student loans and would still be dependent on parents, who would have recently lost their child benefit, creating more financial difficulties. There is also continuing uncertainty for BTEC and other vocational qualifications (largely opted for by working class students) which have been left in limbo, with no U-Turn, and some results not being published at all.

By Ella Lloyd

Image: by Pete via Flickr

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