Pandemic disruption continues in first year of exams since 2019 – FE News


  • As students take the first national exams since 2019, 72% of teachers believe the achievement gap between the poorest students and their classmates will widen at their school.
  • Almost half of teachers thought the extra measures put in place for this year’s exams did not go far enough.
  • Concerns about college applicants’ grades have increased since 2021.

Pandemic-related disruptions have continued to impact students ahead of the first national exams since 2019, according to new research published today by the Sutton Trust. In the last academic year, a third of A-level students who applied to university missed 11 days or more of school for Covid-related reasons, with more than one in 5 missing more than 20 days .

Baccalaureate and university access 2022 surveys university applicants and teachers to provide a picture of this year’s exams and college admissions cycle.

While some mitigation measures have been put in place for exams this year to reflect the ongoing disruptions – including the provision of advance information on topics to be covered in exams – today’s survey of 4,089 teachers reveals that almost half thought the measures had not gone far enough. And only 52% of university applicants felt that exam arrangements fairly accounted for the impact of the pandemic.

Today’s research also looks at the types of remedial activities offered and in which young people participated. The majority (74%) of the 434 candidates surveyed by Savanta said they had been offered at least one type of remedial activity listed in the last academic year. 36% said they had been offered some form of tutoring – a key part of the government’s education recovery strategy – and 19% said they had participated in it, while more than half of university applicants (53% ) said they were offered additional in-person lessons before or after school or at lunchtime.

Teachers continue to feel concerned about the impact of the pandemic on education. 72% believe that the achievement gap in their school will widen with the return of exams. 29% of teachers in disadvantaged schools thought the increase would be substantial, almost twice as many as those in more affluent schools (16%). Concerns are also being felt among students, with 62% of applicants believing they have fallen behind in their studies compared to where they would have been without the pandemic.

Applicants were also more worried about their grades this year than last year, with 64% of college applicants saying they were worried about their grades, compared to 58% saying the same in 2021. Applicants from working class backgrounds were more likely to be worried about their grades. be worried than those from the middle class.

The concerns come amid warnings that more students than usual will find themselves without a place at their preferred university this year as selective universities make fewer offers and the school-leaver population grows. The Trust is calling on universities to give extra consideration to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed out on their bid grades, to reflect the continued learning disruption they will face.

To better address the challenges facing young people, the Trust also recommends that:

  • Schools and universities should provide as much support as possible to students around results day and during the clearing period this year.
  • There should be new investments in catch-up activities, with targeted funding for people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, recognizing that the pandemic will impact the system for years to come.
  • Funding for the pupil bonus, intended for disadvantaged pupils, should be extended to students in post-16 education.

James Turner, chief executive of the Sutton Trust, said:

“Today’s research underscores that the impacts of the pandemic on education are far from over – and the consequences are still being felt among young people and their teachers.

“As we approach results day and a more competitive college admissions cycle than ever before, we need to ensure that the poorest young people have a fair chance to succeed. Universities should pay extra attention to disadvantaged students who have just failed their grades and ensure that recent gains in expanding access to higher education are not lost.

“As we recover from the pandemic, there still needs to be a laser-like focus on supporting students to catch up, through significant continued investment in education recovery.”

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the NAHT Head Teachers’ Union, said:

“This year’s exam cohorts have experienced great disruption due to Covid throughout their courses. Schools have done their best to prepare them well for their exams and assessments, but continuing issues of teacher and student absences due to illness have been an additional challenge to overcome.

School leaders believe that the government could have done more to help this year’s students, but what is important once the results are awarded is that universities and all avenues of training, employment and of continuing education take into account the realities of the experiences and work of the students. with them to put them on the right track for their future.

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint Secretary General of National Educationsaid:

“The stress of the pandemic is not over for young people, and the government continues to fail them.

“The Sutton Trust Research Brief confirms the experience of teachers: it is students from disadvantaged backgrounds whose preparation for A Levels has been most disrupted. These are the students who will suffer the most from the new rationing of university places.

“A government seriously committed to getting up to speed would have made stronger attempts to mitigate the effects of Covid on exam preparation. It would have provided the funding that would have prevented universities from reducing places.

“As things stand, the government’s inadequate education recovery program is compounding the damage caused by the pandemic. The effects of this double failure will be felt in the years to come”.

Tom Middlehurst, curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“This report reinforces the fact that this year’s A-level students, as well as other post-16 level students following vocational qualifications, have suffered more disruption than any cohort since World War II in cause of the Covid pandemic.

“The situation has been extremely difficult for everyone involved – with illness and isolation affecting students and staff over the past two years. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to attend classes and pass exams under these circumstances.

“Opinions are divided as to whether this year’s exam adaptations to mitigate this disruption have gone far enough but, in truth, no system was ever going to be perfect under such difficult conditions.

“The big danger is that the disruption will particularly affect disadvantaged students and that the gap between them and other students will widen in this year’s results.

“For this reason, it is more important than ever to focus on supporting student progression through college and apprenticeships to ensure that young people can achieve their goals and ambitions.

“We fully agree with the Sutton Trust’s recommendations for universities and employers to give disadvantaged students who narrowly miss the grades on offer extra consideration, and for universities to provide extra support for learning and to well-being.

“We also agree with the call for more government catch-up support for school and college students. It is extremely unfortunate that the government is actually going in the opposite direction by reducing its subsidy to tutoring programs.

“And it is important that the Department for Education and Ofqual carefully consider any exam adaptations that may be required next year and not rush back to business as usual given that these students have also been disrupted by the pandemic and that new spikes in infection are likely to cause more disruption.

Stephen Morgan MP, Minister for Labor Ghost Schools, said:

“The Conservatives’ dismal failure to help children recover from the pandemic threatens to cast a shadow over children’s opportunities and widen the already gaping achievement gap.

“Labour is ambitious and optimistic for young people. Where the Tories have wasted millions of pounds on failed projects, Labor would offer tutoring in small groups for all who need it, breakfast clubs and after-school activities for every child and support in mental health in all schools to create a level playing field for all students.

“Every student should be supported this summer to move into the next phase of their lives, but the Tories are so distracted bickering that they are neglecting the future of our children.”

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