To say the education and futures of young people have been an afterthought this last year is a gross understatement. With another lockdown throwing all plans into disarray, an entire generation has been condemned by government short-termism to the misery of debt and lost education. Somehow Gavin Williamson’s ‘cast-iron guarantee’ that exams would continue and schools reopen has morphed into sentencing almost everyone to remote, isolating, online ‘education’.
Those who call for schools to shut indefinitely fail to realise the long-term effects this will have on pupils and the unsustainability of online schooling. At the very least the government should have kept year 11 and 13 in school along with early years. The former as their year will define their future and the latter as they are the formative years in moving into schooling. Time out for other years is not ideal but an acceptable compromise if the half-term return date was set in law.
Schools have tried their hardest to provide online delivery, but with systems like Tapestry unable to cope and staff being overstretched providing both online and in-person delivery, it is untenable. That schools are also being treated as de-facto day-care means the system will likely collapse before March.
Boris Johnson said his greatest regret was keeping schools closed in the first lockdown. Yet apparently due to a lack of conviction he caved to union pressure to close schools a day after they reopened. The principle he had been expounding since Summer had evaporated. Parents, rightly, were furious at the last-minute change. The new lockdown will achieve little but drive the ever-growing misery in this country and exacerbate growing tensions and fatigue. Many parents appear to agree, with The Guardian reporting that one in six schools are seeing over 30% of their normal register turn up with fed-up parents dropping their children off regardless.
Those who call for schools to shut indefinitely fail to realise the long-term effects this will have on pupils and the unsustainability of online schooling
Indicative of the haste of the decision to cancel school and exams was that the Department for Education were blindsided by the announcement, still planning for exams and the school return. Only so much blame can be placed at Gavin Williamson’s feet if the PM is bounced into a decision by Michael Gove, Chris Whitty, Matt Hancock, and unions causing Whitehall communication to collapse.
Pupils, parents, and teachers alike have expressed concern and confusion. Schools have been open since September and would be after half-term. Assessments were meant to be subject to adjustments in content, moderation, and marking to mitigate the year’s unevenness. I would have suggested pushing exams back a month, paring down the content, and delivered in an open-book fashion as this would provide better long-term results than relying on predicted grades again.
We forget there was not one but two fiascos last Summer. One was the scrapped algorithm, and the other was its replacement, using predicted grades which led to horrific grade inflation and suspicious results. Using these again without added safeguards would be a disaster waiting to happen. Universities recognise this issue and are planning extra support for students being admitted after their A-Levels have been ruined.
Universities and students have had the roughest time with education in an age of lockdown, with our educations and futures being sacrificed on the altar of lockdown whilst being wholly ignored by the media and the government. We were snubbed in the announcement with guidance only being belatedly published on 7 January.
However, I have no sympathy for a government announcing a third lockdown with no thought to its wider effect, no end date, and specifically forgetting students exist
‘Blended Learning’ was a farce to legally be able to take the full tuition fee. With my various roles in academic representation at Warwick I have seen the hard work and have the greatest sympathy for the lecturers, departmental staff, and certain members of university management who have worked tirelessly to retain some normalcy and quality this year. However, I have no sympathy for a government announcing a third lockdown with no thought to its wider effect, no end date, and specifically forgetting students exist. Essentially, we were told to deal with it and pay up.
But where to go from here? After the half-term, with the groups who make up over 80% of all Covid-19 deaths vaccinated, schools and universities should make a full return. The return date should be set with no more vague mid-February statements – nowhere can plan with that vagueness. The government must do this or risk another summer debacle and mass non-compliance.
Our education and futures are being sacrificed on the altar of lockdown whilst our pleas for help are dismissed and, as a kicker, we must pay for this pleasure due to government incompetence, cowardice, and an inability to look forward. This is not the new year we expected or should have. Lives matter, as do livelihoods and the future: these have been made second-order concerns as the government flails around, unable to settle on a plan, to the irreversible detriment of all young people, pre-school to postgraduate.