Latest Educational News

GCSEs and A-levels: Extra measures 'to ensure fair exams next summer'

by BBC Education, December 3, 2020

Extra measures to "boost fairness and support students" will be used for next summer's GCSE and A-level exams in England, ministers have announced.

More generous grading, advance notice of exam topics and additional papers are promised by the Department for Education to make up for the disruption faced by students during the pandemic.

Those who cannot sit exams due to self-isolation rules will still get a grade.

Heads said it was "a reasonable package" of measures for the situation.

The DfE says it has had "extensive engagement" with exams watchdog Ofqual, exam boards and senior leaders across the education sector.

The measures mean:

more generous grading than usual, in line with results from summer 2020, so that this year's cohort is not disadvantaged
students getting advance notice - at the end of January - of some topic areas covered in exams to focus revision
exam aids - such as formula sheets - provided in some exams to cut down on the memorising required
additional "backup" exams - to be held in July - to give students a second chance to sit a paper if they have to miss main exams or assessments due to illness or self-isolation
and a new expert group, which will monitor variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.
In extreme cases, where a student misses all their papers, a teacher-assessed grade will be given.

Those young people taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to their exams to ensure fairness.

Teaching climate crisis in classrooms critical for children, top educators say

by The Guardian, December 3, 2020

Joe Biden’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis need to extend to American classrooms with routine lessons on the threats posed by global heating, two former US education secretaries have urged.

In a letter to the Democratic president-elect, the former top education officials – John King and Arne Duncan – said the education of more than 50 million children in US public schools provides a “critical opportunity” to prepare them for a world transformed by climate change, as well as the opportunities afforded by renewable energy and other potential solutions to the crisis.

“Supporting students today in learning about climate change and providing the opportunity to explore and consider climate solutions will increase the resilience of our society as well as our competitiveness in a green economy,” states the letter.

The statement was also signed by Christine Todd Whitman and Gina McCarthy, both former administrators of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Sally Jewell, the former interior secretary, and a dozen other climate activists, education specialists and teacher union representatives.

Proportion of students getting first-class degrees rises by nearly 90% over eight years, OfS finds

by The Independent, December 3, 2020

The proportion of students awarded with a first-class degree has risen by nearly 90 per cent over eight years in England, according to a watchdog.

In 2010-2011, 15.7 per cent of graduates received a top degree, increasing to 29.5 per cent in 2018-2019, Office for Students (OfS) data shows.

This increase of 88 per cent is largely unexplained by factors that may affect attainment, the report said.

The watchdog’s chief executive warned that grade inflation remained a “significant and pressing issue” in higher education in England, as the OfS found the proportion of first class degrees being handed out has continued to rise across the years.

Covid: Three quarters of university students in England covered by asymptomatic testing scheme

by The Independent, December 3, 2020

Mass asymptomatic testing being rolled out at universities ahead of the Christmas return covers around 75 per cent of England’s student population, The Independent understands.

Students have been advised to get tested for coronavirus before heading home for the holidays during a week-long travel window, starting on 3 December.

Announcing plans for the Christmas return earlier this month, the government said it would “work closely” with universities to establish mass asymptomatic coronavirus testing on campus, using lateral flow devices (LFDs) which turn around results within an hour.

The government has worked with 126 English universities to offer “the majority of students” tests before they go home for the festive break, a spokesperson said.

Covid: Three quarters of university students in England covered by asymptomatic testing scheme

by The Independent, December 3, 2020

Mass asymptomatic testing being rolled out at universities ahead of the Christmas return covers around 75 per cent of England’s student population, The Independent understands.

Students have been advised to get tested for coronavirus before heading home for the holidays during a week-long travel window, starting on 3 December.

Announcing plans for the Christmas return earlier this month, the government said it would “work closely” with universities to establish mass asymptomatic coronavirus testing on campus, using lateral flow devices (LFDs) which turn around results within an hour.

The government has worked with 126 English universities to offer “the majority of students” tests before they go home for the festive break, a spokesperson said.

Ofsted points to total school disruption in some areas

by BBC News, December 3, 2020

Education has been "completely disrupted" by the sheer scale of Covid absences in some schools in some areas, Ofsted regional bosses have warned.

The regional directors for North-West England and the West Midlands say the impact of rules around self-isolation has significantly impacted attendance.

They highlight areas where hundreds of pupils are absent and self-isolating at a time, some again and again.

Ofsted says some areas will have seen relatively little impact this term.

The latest official figures for overall attendance in England show 22% of pupils in secondary schools were absent last Thursday.

This was the same as the previous week, when figures also showed at least some pupils being sent home in 75% of schools.

Covid: Some students not back until February next term

by BBC News, December 3, 2020

Students will have staggered starting dates for returning to universities in England after Christmas - with some not back until 7 February.

The government's plan will mean students taking hands-on courses such as medicine or performing arts returning from 4 to 18 January.

Other subjects would be taught online at the start of term, with students back between 25 January and 7 February.

Students are being promised Covid tests when they return next term.

It means some students heading home in the next few days will not be in university again for nine weeks.

The National Union of Students said students would still have to pay rent on "properties they are being told not to live in".

Extra measures 'to ensure fair exams next summer' in England

by BBC Education, December 3, 2020

Extra measures to "boost fairness and support students" will be used for next summer's GCSE and A-level exams in England, ministers have announced.

More generous grading, advance notice of exam topics and additional papers are promised by the Department for Education to make up for the disruption faced by students during the pandemic.

Those who cannot sit exams due to self-isolation rules will still get a grade.

Heads said it was "a reasonable package" of measures for the situation.

The DfE says it has had "extensive engagement" with exams watchdog Ofqual, exam boards and senior leaders across the education sector.

The measures mean:

more generous grading than usual, in line with results from summer 2020, so that this year's cohort is not disadvantaged
students getting advance notice - at the end of January - of some topic areas covered in exams to focus revision
exam aids - such as formula sheets - provided in some exams to cut down on the memorising required
additional "backup" exams - to be held in July - to give students a second chance to sit a paper if they have to miss main exams or assessments due to illness or self-isolation
and a new expert group, which will monitor variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.
In extreme cases, where a student misses all their papers, a teacher-assessed grade will be given.

Those young people taking vocational and technical qualifications will also see adaptations to their exams to ensure fairness.

Thorpe Bay youngster, 12, is even smarter than Albert Einstein

by Echo News, December 3, 2020

A SUPREMELY intelligent 12-year-old officially has a higher IQ than Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.

Aanya Gupta, from Thorpe Bay, scored the highest possible marks in the Mensa IQ test with 162 points.

This is two points higher than physicist Albert Einstein, who is believed to have had the same IQ as English physicist Professor Stephen Hawking – who scored 160.

“She is also a passionate writer and publishes her stories and poems with ‘Young Writers’ on many occasions.

“She used to say she wanted to be a writer, then a doctor, it changes.

“She says ‘I will see where my destiny takes me’.”

In her Eleven Plus exams, she scored 100 per cent marks in maths and verbal reasoning papers in 2018.

Her father, Dr Raj Gupta, 46, is a consultant paediatrician and Neonatal Lead at Southend Hospital and her mother works as an IT consultant.

Mrs Gupta added: “We are both really ecstatic about our daughter’s achievements, we knew she was an extraordinary child since she was a toddler.”

Aanya, whose favourite author is Stephenie Meyer, is also a musician; she will be sitting her piano grade five exam soon, and is also learning to play the guitar.

GCSE and A-levels to be marked more generously next year in light of Covid disruption

by Independent, December 3, 2020

Students will have their GCSE and A-levels marked more generously next year, the education secretary has announced along with other changes aimed at making grading as fair as possible amid the pandemic.

It comes after unions called for further amendments to exams next year, on top of the three-week delay to most exams aimed at allowing for more teaching time, and Wales decided to scrap their summer exams for the second year in a row.

Under the new measures, students taking GCSEs and A-levels in 2021 will be awarded more generous grades to make up for disruption to their education during the coronavirus pandemic, Gavin Williamson has said.

Pupils in England will receive advance notice of some topics ahead of tests – as well as exam aids when sitting papers – to ensure this cohort of students is not disadvantaged, the education secretary said.

Additional exams will also be run to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation, according to the Department for Education (DfE).

Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Learners called it a “reasonable package of measures to mitigate the damaging impact on learning of the pandemic”.

The DfE estimated as many as 798,000 state school students – between 8 to 10 per cent – were out of school last week for coronavirus-related reasons, down from 876,000 the week before.

Gavin Williamson vows A-levels and GCSEs will not be cancelled in England

by The Guardian, December 3, 2020

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said he could “absolutely” give a cast-iron guarantee that exams in England would not be cancelled next year, as the government unveiled plans to support students affected by the pandemic.

After months of uncertainty for pupils and their teachers, the government announced that pupils in England sitting GCSEs and A-levels next summer would be given advance notice of topics and allowed to take in exam aids including formula sheets.

Students will also be awarded more generous grades, in line with last summer’s significantly improved results, the government said.

Williamson said the “exceptional package of measures” were designed to level the playing field for pupils whose study has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, one in five secondary pupils were absent from school for Covid-related reasons.

Asked on Sky News on Thursday whether he could give a “cast-iron guarantee” that GCSEs and A-levels would go ahead next year, Williamson said: “Absolutely.”

He added: “Tens of thousands of students have been taking those GCSE and A-level exams all the way through that national lockdown, and that’s been done safely and securely and successfully.

“I have every confidence if we’ve been able to run a whole set of exams for GCSEs and A-levels during a national lockdown, we have every ability to run those same set of exams in the summer of next year.”

The decision to plough on with next year’s exams in England is in contrast to Wales, which announced last month that GCSEs and A-levels were cancelled, and in Scotland, where there will be no National 5 exams and ministers have not yet decided whether Higher exams will go ahead.

Williamson insisted that England was taking the same route as Germany, Finland and Singapore and that exams were the best form of assessment for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

All students offered testing on return to university

by GOV UK, December 2, 2020

Students will be asked to stagger their return to universities after Christmas to help protect those around them and reduce transmission of Covid-19, the Government has announced today (Wednesday 2 December).

New guidance published by the Department for Education will set out how higher education providers should manage student returns over a five-week period according to the following:

From 4 - 18 January, medical students, those on placements or practical courses with a need for in-person teaching should return in line with their planned start dates; 
The remaining courses should be offered online from the beginning of term so students can continue their studies from home; and
From 25 January, all other students should start to return gradually over a two-week period, and by 7 February all students are expected to have returned.
All students should be offered Covid tests when they return to university to help identify and isolate those who are asymptomatic but could spread the virus. All universities will be offered testing facilities to give students two lateral flow tests, three days apart, with results turned around within an hour to help control the spread of the virus. 

These measures will be crucial to manage returns carefully and protect students, staff and local communities while reducing disruption to education.

The Government has also announced a one-off fund of up to £20 million to help students most in need of support in these exceptional circumstances.

GCSEs 2021: Are we ready for another grading crisis?

by TES, December 2, 2020

Some things always seem to come along once a decade or so. It used to be the way with revolutions in youth culture – the 1967 summer of love, punk in 1976 and acid house in 1988. And today it appears to be the same with exam grading crises.

Every 10 years or so something unaccounted for – the fallout from a big change to the exams system, or maybe an external event – will throw up a set of GCSE or A-level grades that no one was expecting, that many people feel are completely unjust and that suddenly become very big news.

Only education policy nerds will recall full details of these eruptions a few years down the line. Nevertheless, their impact is huge. It is not just their capacity to trigger uncertainty, anxiety and anger among entire cohorts of young people. They also have the power to take down some very significant figures in education – and wider politics – with them.

An exams grading crisis every decade
In 2002, an A-level grading scandal triggered the sacking of the chair of England’s exams regulator, contributed to the resignation of the then education secretary Estelle Morris, and led to thousands of exam regrades.

A decade later came the 2012 GCSE grading controversy. It shared a list of remarkably similar causes and features with its A-level forebear. Both followed the introduction of a new modular set of qualifications with initial grades that collided with a desire to keep final results in line with previous years. The regulator intervened and grade boundaries were adjusted with explosive consequences.

Then, this summer, the latest iteration of the grading crisis came crashing through thanks to Covid, completely steamrollering all precedent as panic set in. It cost England’s chief exam regulator her job and will be seen as a key reason for Gavin Williamson’s demise as education secretary if he is moved on from Sanctuary Buildings in the next cabinet reshuffle as many have predicted.

‘Too many parents had to wait too long’: NAO probe exposes free meal voucher failures

by Schools Week, December 2, 2020

Parents were left waiting “too long” for financial support under the government’s national free school meal voucher scheme, according to a probe that has exposed officials’ lack of oversight of the £384 million contract.

A National Audit Office investigation, published today, reveals that parents were left waiting on average five days to receive the £15-per-week vouchers as the scheme struggled to cope with demand after launching.

However, the report also reveals a lack of oversight from the Department for Education – including ministers not knowing whether the firm running the scheme, Edenred, has made a profit on the contract. Officials also had found the firm did not have the “financial standing” for such a contract, but awarded it anyway (read our key findings here).

Despite promising vouchers would be delivered in four days, the department didn’t collect information on processing times. Nor did the government check key performance indicators over how many helpline calls were being answered.

The report also revealed that Edenred did not know the voucher scheme would be extended during Easter until former education secretary Michael Gove announced it – on the Saturday of the holidays.

The firm had planned to use the holidays to upgrade its system, but instead saw its services stretched to breaking point as parents were left without vouchers for weeks. The firm had just over 11,000 school administrators signed up at the start of April, which rocketed to nearly 19,000 by the start of May.

The government should not impose a faulty definition of antisemitism on universities

by The Guardian, December 2, 2020

We all know how the path to hell is paved. But it is a warning worth repeating for Gavin Williamson. The secretary of state for education intends to rid universities in England of antisemitism, but his intervention not only threatens to provoke strife and confusion – it also places academic freedom and free speech on campus at risk.

In October, Williamson wrote to all university vice-chancellors “requesting” they adopt a particular definition of antisemitism: the “working definition” promulgated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. Williamson is not the first minister to write to universities on this matter, but he has been more forceful than his predecessors. His letter demands action by Christmas, and threatens swingeing measures against refusenik institutions that later suffer antisemitic incidents. He threatens to remove funding and the power to award degrees from universities that do not share his faith in the efficacy of the IHRA working definition.

This is misguided, for a number of reasons. First, it misconceives the task universities face. As shown in a report released last week by Universities UK – Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education – structural racism in universities is profound, and racial harassment on campus is widespread. These are problems that universities must address. The imposed adoption of the IHRA working definition will not meet this challenge. It will, however, privilege one group over others by giving them additional protections, and in doing so will divide minorities against each other. For this reason alone, Williamson should pause and consider how best to protect students and university staff from racism broadly as well as from antisemitism.

Williamson’s strategically ill-considered letter to vice-chancellors is based on two mistaken assumptions about the fight against antisemitism. First, it asserts the IHRA working definition provides a “straightforward” way for universities to show that they do not tolerate antisemitism. Second, it claims that universities that fail to adopt the definition reveal they are willing to tolerate antisemitism. Neither of these claims is true. The IHRA working definition is anything but straightforward, and universities already have some tools to deal with antisemitism.

UK universities fine students £170,000 for Covid rule breaches

by The Guardian, December 2, 2020

Universities fined students more than £170,000 for breaching coronavirus safety rules in the first weeks of the new academic year, a Guardian analysis has found, as students told of struggling to make friends without flouting restrictions.

Twenty-eight institutions fined students for breaking university, local and national Covid rules, including on household mixing, mandatory face coverings and social distancing, according to responses from 105 universities to freedom of information (FoI) requests.

University of Nottingham students paid more than one-third of the total amount, with 91 fined a total of £58,865 up to 12 November – more than the amount levied on its student population by police. The university said the individual fines it issued were up to £1,500.

The fines handed down to 1,898 students amounted to £170,915. Most universities only disclosed fines levied in the first two to three weeks of term. Some said the money would be paid into their student hardship fund.

The findings reveal wide variations in the penalties imposed on students by different universities as well as in the support provided to those self-isolating or seeking psychological help during the pandemic.

Fifty-three universities said they disciplined and cautioned a total of 5,122 students. Nottingham came top, with 672 students sanctioned and a further 21 cases pending, followed by Leeds Beckett (403), Oxford Brookes (340), Manchester University (334) and Aberdeen (215)

Stagger university students' reurn in new year to avoid spikes, Labour says

by The independant, December 2, 2020

Labour has urged the government to stagger the return of university students to campus after the Christmas break. to avoid coronavirus spikes.

The party is calling for those on placements – or whose face-to-face teaching is essential – to come back first in the new year.

Universities faced coronavirus outbreaks this term after welcoming students back for the start of the academic year, with hundreds of students testing positive within the first weeks of term.

Labour has said the government needs to “urgently” address the January return to avoid “spikes in infection rates of the kind seen in September”.

The government has advised students in England to head home for Christmas during a seven-day “travel window” after the national lockdown ends.

However, guidance has not yet been published for going back next year.

“The government have said nothing about the return of students to universities in January,” Labour’s Emma Hardy said in a letter to universities minister Michelle Donelan.

“This urgently needs to be addressed to ensure the movement of almost two million students across the UK does not lead to spikes in infection rates of the kind seen in September.”

Ms Hardy, the shadow minister for universities, added: "The government was late in realising there was a crisis in September, and it is deeply concerning that your department does not appear to have learned from this experience."

In mid-October, the universities minister said Public Health England had told the government there had been coronavirus outbreaks at 68 universities since the start of term.

Studying solo: how to prepare for online exams at home

by Guardian Education , December 2, 2020

After about 17 years in formal education, some university students are being asked to take their final exams online – in a different format than they’ve ever experienced. This comes on top of a pandemic that has already taken a toll on their mental health.

But there are upsides, too. Remote exams are more flexible, more mindful of individual needs, and acknowledge the pressures students are under. Here are some ways students can tailor their revision to make the most of online assessment.

Create a revision routine
First, decide what topics to cover, and what kinds of knowledge or learning the exam is testing. Tutors can help with this, as well as past papers and sample answers.

Once you’ve got your exam timetable, divide the remaining time by the number of topics to create a study schedule. Building routine into your revision is especially important right now, according to Delroy Hall, senior counsellor and wellbeing practitioner at Sheffield Hallam University. “Covid-19 and the pandemic has now disrupted all that [routine], so we have to be intentional in how we manage our lives.”

Hall recommends the Pomodoro technique, too: 25 minutes of study followed by a five-minute break, then repeat. This is helpful if you feel overwhelmed by revision or struggle to stay focused.

Start reviewing course notes, marked essays, lecture videos and important source material. But, Hall says, “learn concepts and ideas, don’t memorise lots of text”. Open book exams let you show you know how to apply learning, not what you can remember. But while this takes some pressure off, hunting for sources during a test can be distracting.

'The job market isn't totally on its knees': why there's hope for anxious graduates

by The Guardian, December 2, 2020

Record redundancies, rising unemployment and declining job opportunities: it’s clear that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the jobs market. Those at the beginning of their career are especially vulnerable, with entry level jobs slashed by nearly a quarter and 40% of placements and internships cancelled.

Students could perhaps be forgiven, then, for feeling gloomy about their prospects after graduating.

Mahel Khan, a final-year management student at Nottingham University and education vlogger, said he’d been disheartened after his internship at RBS was cancelled. “That gave me an idea of how times would be bleak in the future,” he said. “It won’t just be the class of 2021 which will be struggling to find a job post-Covid, but also 2022, 2023 and even 2024.”

But according to Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, there is some cause for optimism. “It’s a tough job market but it’s important to remember it’s not totally on its knees. Our data shows it’s 12% down but if you flip that on its head, it means roughly 80% of pre-pandemic recruitment is happening again this year and next year – so there is positivity out there.”

Isherwood added that the picture is very different depending on the sector: retail, transport and travel have reduced graduate recruitment substantially, but professional services, including law and finance, remain similar. Public sector roles have even increased – especially alternative routes into teaching, prison jobs and policing. “It’s important everyone does their homework on this,” he said.

Covid: Pupil absence stabilises after recent fall, but disruption still ‘significant’

by Schools Week, December 1, 2020

The drop in pupil attendance has seemingly plateaued, but around one in 10 pupils still remain absent from school for Covid-related reasons.

The latest attendance data from the Department for Education (DfE) shows that up to 798,000 pupils – between 8 and 10 per cent of the total population – did not attend school for Covid-19 related reasons on November 26.

This represents a slight decrease from the previous week where up to 876,000 pupils did not attend school.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the level of disruption is “still very significant”.

The DfE reports that of the pupils off school last Thursday, 19,000 pupils were off with a confirmed case of coronavirus, 29,000 with a suspected case and up to 688,000 were self-isolating due to a potential contact with a case of coronavirus.

Additionally 62,000 pupils were in schools that had closed as a result of Covid-19 – a slight decrease from around 66,000 the previous week.

Overall attendance at schools did slightly improve – rising from 82.9 to 83.5 per cent last Thursday.