Covid’s lost generation: Devastating report lays bare the £350bn toll on children

Two new schools will challenge the practise of pupils sitting exams at age 16.  

Former Downing Street aide to Tony Blair, Peter Hyman, along with brothers Ben and Tobyn Thomas, who own Thomas’s Battersea where Prince George and Princess Charlotte are pupils, are backing a campaign to scrap GCSE exams.

They will be opening secondary schools where GCSEs will not be offered unless parents insists on it – as campaigners say that two years of no exams due to the pandemic has created the perfect time to reform the system, The Sunday Times reports. 

The schools will utilise different methods for recording a child’s progress, sparing them from spending 30 hours or more doing written tests in exam halls. 

Thomas’s Battersea Square, a senior school for pupils up to age 18, is putting together an online passport system to keep track of teenagers’ kindness, creativity, teamwork and social skills, along with academic progress.  

More than one day a week will be spent on sports, pottery, ballet, drama and arts and crafts at the new school, whose foremost rule is ‘Be kind’. Character traits and achievement will be updated online.

Tobyn Thomas says he and his brother agreed with campaigners who say that exams measure the wrong things in a pupil and stifle creativity. 

Campaigners from the group Rethinking Assessment claim England’s ‘mutant exam system’ is not helping young people succeed, with one in three UK graduates failing to find a graduate-level job after university, and many employers now holding their own tests to find suitable candidates. 

Former Conservative education secretary and the architect of GCSEs, Lord Baker of Dorking, is among those who argue that exams measure the wrong things.  

Thomas said: ‘We do not disagree with anything [they say]. We support their arguments. 

‘It has been amazing watching Ken Baker, who brought in GCSEs, saying: ”Now let’s take them out.” 

‘The question is, how do you change from a 19th-century system to a 21st-century system? The world awaiting our pupils is changing massively.’ 

Britain is the last country in Europe to have pupils sit national exams at age 16. 

Former Blair aide Peter Hyman, who is said to have coined the phrase ‘bog-standard comprehensive’, is opening a senior school in London that will make use of dashboards and online portfolios to record character traits and physical skills, along with academic knowledge. 

‘I don’t think it is good for children for their last four years of school to be cramming for exams,’ he said. ‘In 10 years’ time, I think everyone will leave school with a weblink to a portfolio showing what they have done at school.’

Schools do not have a legal obligation to enter children for GCSEs, but the majority of state schools did so because results decide their league table positions.

The grading of students became a fiasco last summer when exams were cancelled amid school closures, as thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn, allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.    

A consultation on how qualifications  for summer 2021 should be decided came to end on Friday, with no final decision expected for another two weeks. 

Pupils in England who have lost out on significant learning time as a result of the cycle of coronavirus lockdowns should be allowed to repeat an academic year, a think-tank urged earlier this week.

The Education Policy Institution has called on the government to consider allowing students to repeat a year of education, where this is supported by parents, to tackle extreme cases of learning loss.

It added that there is a risk of inconsistency and unfairness of grading between different schools and colleges, and between students, as well as a risk of significant grade inflation this year.

But it said that this policy would only help a minority of pupils across the country and called on the government to ‘focus on a much bigger and targeted package for the thousands of pupils who have lost learning through no fault of their own’.

Though headteachers expressed interest in the idea, they said the scheme could only be open to ‘small numbers’ to avoid a ‘logjam’, after Boris Johnson announced schools would stay shut until at least March 8.  

Other teachers warned that thousands of pupils in England could be ‘scarred for the rest of their lives’ as a result of mass disruption to their education caused by government pandemic action.   


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