Pupils in unsafe schools need exam boost – report

Parents protested outside St Leonard’s school last term

Hazel Shearing

Education correspondent

@hazelshearing25 minutes ago

Students at schools in England that have had to close because of dangerous concrete should get a boost of up to 10% in their exams, says a report on the impact of Raac.

Professors at Durham University said exam boards should compensate for the “lost learning” of pupils at St Leonard’s Catholic School and others like it.

The school trust said help it had received so far was “unhelpful, inadequate and underwhelming”.

The government has previously told the BBC that it was not possible to give special consideration to some groups of exam pupils.

Other school leaders told the BBC this month that their exam students were disadvantaged by Raac disruption.

St Leonard’s, in Durham, was told a day before the start of the school year to close because it had Raac, or reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete.

Lessons were cancelled for a week and pupils have since had to learn online, off-site and in a sports hall thinly divided into makeshift classrooms.

The sports hall at St Leonard’s has been divided into classrooms

Education professors at Durham University interviewed staff and pupils for the report commissioned by the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, to which St Leonard’s belongs.

“I don’t feel prepared for exams at all,” one GCSE student was quoted as saying. “Our GCSE academic life was previously impacted by Covid and now this is happening. I don’t think any of us could show good results.”

The report said the government, England’s exams regulator Ofqual and exam boards should offer “qualification outcomes equivalent to what would have happened in the absence of the crisis”.

It suggested a “minimum” 5% increase on exam marks but added that, given the “length and depth of the disruption” at St Leonard’s, “the inflation could be greater (perhaps 10%), and dependent to some extent on the nature of disruption for each subject”.

However, last month the Department for Education (DfE) said: “It is not possible to make changes to exams and assessments for only some groups of students to address the impact of variable disruption to teaching.”

It later added that exam boards had been asked to agree to coursework extensions where possible.

In a statement this week, it said that it had “been working at pace with schools, including St Leonard’s, to identify Raac and minimise disruption to pupils’ education”.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents exam boards, urged schools and colleges to seek “support on a case-by-case basis”, while Ofqual said it had told exam boards to prioritise those schools with Raac that contact them.

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The Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust said it had received “minimal extensions to coursework” and, in a formal request to the DfE, said: “Just because there is no current provision within our examination system for individual schools in this unique situation, does not mean there should not be.”

Nick Hurn, its chief executive, said: “The stance that the DfE, Ofqual and JCQ continue to parrot – that students won’t be given any additional consideration outside of the current framework – is just not credible, reasonable or just.

“Now we have irrefutable evidence that our children’s exam chances have been severely affected by this situation caused by the Raac.”

He said ministers intervened after Covid hit – and this situation was “far more disruptive”.

Mr Hurn added that he did not expect Ofqual to allow teachers to assess grades – which happened when exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 – but did want a “fair and appropriate level of consideration”.

Unsafe buildings at St Leonard’s are due to be demolished this year, according to the report – but rebuilding work “will take time”.

A total of 231 schools in England were confirmed to have Raac in the most recent government list issued last month – but that list could continue to grow.

At some schools, students have been unable to access design and technology work rooms, laboratories and other specialist spaces since September.

Prof Stephen Gorard, one of the report’s authors, said: “The emphasis has rightly been on practical and lab-based subjects.”

But he said other subjects have been affected at St Leonard’s because teaching materials were abandoned when classrooms closed at short notice, adding: “Even lessons in English literature were thrown by not being able access any of the planned texts.”

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