Fears for a ‘blighted’ generation of pupils – Grading returns to old system

Children whose lives were shattered by Covid have suffered a fresh blow with a return to the pre-pandemic exam grading system, experts say. Charities highlighted a crisis in mental health and called for counsellors to be employed in every school across the country.

This year’s A-level and GCSE grading in England returned to the traditional system in place before the coronavirus struck in 2020. And it ended a period in which grades have been higher than usual.

But Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continued to give pupils extra credit because of the disruption to their education caused by the pandemic, leading to better results and fears that English students will be unfairly penalised.

Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, said of the differing systems: “If you are a student from England who has missed out on a university place, is it fair if that place goes to someone from Wales or Scotland because of decisions their government has made?”

And Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The abrupt return to pre-pandemic grading risks damaging outcomes for disadvantaged students whose lives and learning have already been hit hard.”

READ MORE The counties where teens scored the lowest A-Level results mapped

Pressure group UsForThem, which highlights the impact of the pandemic on children, raised concerns about GCSE pupils whose results are due this week.

Director Arabella Skinner said: “The current GCSE students have barely known normal life at senior school.

“Since 2020, they have had closures, enforced isolations, remote learning, limited curriculums due to social distancing and finally strikes.

“And yet somehow when it comes to their GCSE results they are being treated as if they haven’t faced any disruption.

“As they approach applying for university and jobs, they’ll hit a baby boom making places harder to find. When you add into the mix that their grades, through no fault of theirs, will be lower than those in the years above, it can not be seen as anything other than unfair.”

This year, 26.5 percent of all A-levels in England were graded A or A*. This is roughly in line with 2019, when the proportion was 25.5 percent, but it was significantly down on last year, when 35.9 percent of grades were A or above.

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Michelle Lee-Izu, Barnardo’s Corporate Director for Development and Innovation, said: “Results day creates anxiety for many young people every year, but we know it might feel particularly unsettling for some young people as we head back to traditional grading methods for the first year since the pandemic.”

She added: “At a time when many more children are experiencing difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing as a result of the pandemic – and facing additional worries like going to school hungry during the cost-of-living crisis –the need for the Government to introduce Mental Health Support Teams across every school and college has never been greater.”

And Children’s Society Policy and Impact Manager Amy Dicks said: “For GCSE-age children this will feel like a crucial stage in their lives, both emotionally and educationally.

“Today’s young people are coming under an increasing amount of pressure. Through our services, sadly we are still seeing the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health with more children needing support.”

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