The past year has been one to remember for people in education.

With transmission high in the young, it has been a race against time to stop the virus, whilst still ensuring the next generation receive an education that will see them into the future. 

Now, with masks, vaccinations, twice a week testing and good cleaning measures, it seems that some form of life as we once knew it may be resurfacing. The roadmap out of lockdown is looking ever more realistic.

Yet, whilst the government has handled some parts of the pandemic well, it seems to have really failed in other areas. Education is undoubtedly one of those areas.

Gavin Williamson has really disappointed many people up and down the country. In a poll conducted on GMB, 92 per cent of teachers think he should step down and resign as education secretary. Now, I never had Gavin Williamson down in my books as being a good education minister or having young people’s best interests at heart, but it appears that he has now plunged the next generations into problems that may take many years to undo. 

No matter which party you support, it is clear that he needs to go. He is not a good education secretary, and, once and for all, he has let young people down.

The not-so-grand reopening of schools

Back in September, schools reopened their doors to the majority of pupils. At the time, cases seemed low and many were told that young people had very little chance of catching or spreading the virus, so schools appeared to pose little risk.

However, as the weeks progressed, it very quickly became apparent that schools were a catalyst for Covid-19 to run wild.

In less than one month, cases began to rise. By the time schools closed for Christmas, infections had risen to almost 40,000 a day. It was clear that the reopening was premature and that children and young people could indeed catch and spread the deadly virus, now overwhelming the NHS.

But the worst part is that the situation could have been avoided, or at least prevented from escalating the way that it did, for several reasons.

Firstly, the education secretary sent pupils back in September with very little time for people to adequately prepare. Much of the guidance that was given to education settings was conflicting, hard to accomplish, and even potentially harmful. One piece of guidance specified that people in primary and nursery settings were not to hug or soothe a child or tend to them if they had injured themselves, unless absolutely necessary. This has been proven in many studies to affect attachment and empathy in children later down the line.

Secondly, health advice from officials, such as the WHO, about the safety of schools returning was largely ignored. Many European countries had urged that masks be worn in classrooms where adequate social distancing was not possible. This advice seemed even more necessary in British classrooms, where space is generally tight, small and overcrowded. By this point in time, we were wearing masks in shops, public transport and restaurants, but the idea of masks in a classroom was nowhere to be seen.

Next, when cases started to rapidly increase, SAGE urged the government to shut schools. However, this piece of advice was also ignored. Instead, they decided to wait until cases were in the 20,000-30,000 range before imposing a month-long ‘lockdown’ in November. By the time we came out of it on December 5th, it had only made a dent in the cases before Covid was raging once again. 

Then, less than one month after this, we were plunged back into a full lockdown. But, by this time, cases were at 50,000 a day, with variants arising and the NHS on the brink of breaking. Yet, despite all of this, Gavin Williamson still thought it logical to send pupils back to school in January, urging them that it was completely safe. They stayed open for a total of one day before inevitably closing. This not only upset many pupils, but disrupted parents, people’s wages and, ultimately, the economy. 

The exam shenanigans

Back in January, after the full effect of school reopenings had been realised, it was decided that exams should be cancelled for the second year in a row.

The announcement allowed millions of pupils to breathe a sigh of relief. Many had missed hours of learning, and some schools even shut early due to outbreaks. So, the decision seemed fair, logical and reasonable.

It was decided that teachers would now grade pupils at the end of the year, based on assessments and ongoing work assignments. This need for paper-based evidence helped prevent any teacher bias, ensuring all pupils received a fair and honest grade.

It was also decided that pupils would be given their grades early, around July, in order to give plenty of time to appeal grades if students felt they had been treated unfairly.

However, like always, the government and the education minister backtracked.

After a committee meeting, in which members of the public were asked to put forward their opinions, it was announced that plans would be changed.

It will still be a teacher-assessed grade, as promised. But, some pupils will now be asked to take an end-of-year test in order to assist the process. This will consist of an exam (although schools are convinced they’re not) based on past papers. Teachers can decide the questions within these tests themselves, but the aim is to supposedly give standardisation over the grades this year. However, it is not mandatory that schools even do these tests. It is up to individual trusts or settings to decide whether or not they take place.

Now, I’m sure that some pupils are glad of this change. Those who have not done very well this year may now have a chance to prove their abilities. However, no matter whom this new idea appeases, it is still a backtrack on what the government previously said.

They stood there in January and told millions of pupils that exams would not be taking place. That was a lie.

Not only have they lied, but they may have cost students their necessary grades. No one has revised for these exams. And now with just four weeks to go, we are expected to remember eight months’ worth of incomplete knowledge. No one would ask an employee to do eight months’ worth of work in one month, so why ask the same of school pupils?

It was further announced that exam grades would be given in August, not July. This means that we may see the same problem we faced last year, with students not getting into their university or college of choice due to a backlog of appeals in the system.

Finally, merely telling students that these ‘tests’ are not exams but assessments, does not make it any better. They are still under timed conditions. They are still questions and papers that would have been used in a real exam. And, most importantly, they are still exams we were told we would not be sitting. The only difference is that these will be sat in a classroom instead of a gym hall. Changing the wording doesn’t change anything. It still makes the government liars. 

It could have been different

Once again, this government has shown a lack of intelligence and competence when it comes to running a country.

The problems in education this past year have cost pupils their grades, mental health, and future prospects.

What if Boris Johnson and his government had dealt with schools properly? Would we have still encountered the same level of problems?

Maybe there wouldn’t have been a second wave or a third lockdown — or indeed, a Kent variant. Children may not have lost loved ones, and the future may have looked brighter for young people than it currently does.

Still, we will do our exams, and we will pass them. We will go to university, grow up and have our dream jobs. We will succeed in life because of what we have been through; because we have been the Covid-19 generation.

The government may have forgotten us, but we haven’t forgotten ourselves.

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