Monday 12th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and to speak in this timely debate.

One point on which we can all agree is that students have had an incredibly tough time this year. The petitions that we are debating raise several important questions about exams next year. The Government’s announcement today represents, I think it is fair to say, baby steps in the right direction, but we are left asking where are the serious actions that will help to stop a repeat of this summer’s fiasco. So far, the answer is to delay school exams by three weeks next summer, to give students more time to study. If those exams cannot go ahead, plan B is to push the schools to perform “rigorous mock exams” many months earlier to provide more data to determine grades. That is incredibly half-baked. Today, students and teachers have met the measures with, at best, scepticism and, at worst, derision. How can we push back school exams by three weeks to give more time for teaching, then basically bring them forward by five months by formalising mock exams?

Most mocks will take place early next year, and many students and teachers feel that they will have little time to cover this year’s syllabus, making a mockery of the Government’s measures to give more teaching time. I would like the Minister to give a firm commitment that no student will be tested on any subject that they have not learned. That is absolutely vital. I would like the Minister to explain why mocks are being used in this way, because the Government had previously dropped the idea of using them, so it is important that people understand what has changed. I would also like him to explain whether time will be provided to make sure that marking is done after the full exams.

That brings us to the second petition, which asks for the curriculum to be reduced, as teaching time is likely to be lost because of disruption. Students have lost at least five months of in-school teaching, and many of them are right to be concerned that some of this year’s mistakes may be repeated. Where there is increased interruption in teaching, we should give schools and teachers more input into those decisions on which parts of the curriculum should be prioritised. As hon. Members have said, many teachers have said that they were not consulted on today’s announcement, and they want to discuss it. Will the Minister make a commitment today that he will meet them very soon?

There are wider issues at play. Schools are warning that they may grind to a halt without access to covid tests, and without quick turnaround times for results. Many still do not have the resources and funding that they need to provide education from home for those who have to self-isolate. That is all the worse for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Today’s announcement is unbelievably thin. It could have been made weeks ago. Where is the independent assessment of what went wrong? Where is the scenario planning for next year? Saying that it will come later in the autumn is not good enough. The Government have had months to sort this out. What about our most vulnerable children—those who are clinically vulnerable, who are facing a life or death decision about whether they can return to school? When can we expect a comprehensive plan for these various challenges?

Students, parents and teachers are sick of the Government passing the buck and letting civil servants take the hit. Ofqual was not on the ballot paper last December; the Conservative party was. It is this Government who are accountable to the public, both for what went wrong and for how they are going to fix it.