As you will know, the Prime Minister announced on Monday January 4th that we would be going into another national lockdown, as a result of cases and hospitalisations rising above the levels we saw in the first lockdown. This has been a result of the emergence and spread of the new Covid-19 variant, which members of SAGE have evaluated is between 50% and 70% more contagious than the primary Covid-19 strain. We are in an extremely serious situation and extensive steps have to be taken to protect our NHS through these winter months.
Firstly, I recognise this is a really worrying and challenging time and I thank our schools, teachers and support staff for the tireless work they have been doing, particularly for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
Our best chance of beating this terrible virus is by following these restrictions as our vaccine rollout continues and accelerates. The UK has already vaccinated over 1 million people and with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine also approved by the MHRA, I hope we can see all those on the current priority list vaccinated as soon as possible, which will be a vital step in returning to some semblance of normality this year. Vaccines are the silver bullet to end this pandemic.
Keeping schools open and protecting our children’s education has always been a priority for this Government through this pandemic, something I have always supported. However, I do understand the situation now is critical, and another national effort is required. All primary and secondary schools, plus colleges, are closed from January 6th, although vulnerable students and children of key workers will still be able to attend – all other children will learn remotely until February half-term. Early years settings does remain open nationally to all, providing vital early education and childcare. I have been on calls with both the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, as well as the Minister for Education, Nick Gibb MP, who emphasised this decision on schools was not an easy one and is very much a last resort. I also raised concerns I have, and constituents have, about the impact of these measures on the educational progress of students in GCSE and A-Level years as they move through key years in education. Steps are being put in place to mitigate the impact of this new lockdown on our children’s education. As the Prime Minister said in PMQs today, “schools will be first to reopen when the lockdown is lifted”, which I truly hope will be sooner rather than later.
Considering these current circumstances, it is not possible for all exams in the summer to go ahead as planned, including SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels. The Government has been working with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements which will allow students to progress fairly. I can now tell you that a consultation will be launched next week and concluded quickly to give certainty to our students, parents, teachers and schools. The Government expects Ofqual, the exams regulator, to consider a teacher-assessed system as the replacement for exams - this is the fairest substitute and teachers will have plenty of time to assess individual pupils in respective subjects. Teachers will be given training and support to ensure these marks are awarded consistently and fairly. I hope this solution will provide some relief to everyone concerned about the impact of this pandemic on our children and their progression through the education system.
Speaking to the House of Commons on Wednesday January 6th, the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson MP, had the following to say:
“Although exams are the fairest way we have of assessing what a student knows, the impact of this pandemic now means that it is not possible to have these exams this year. I can confirm that GCSEs and A and AS Level exams will not go ahead this summer. This year we are going to put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms.
“The department and Ofqual had already worked up a range of contingency options. While the details will need to be fine-tuned in consultation with Ofqual, the exam boards and teaching representatives, I can confirm now that I wish to use a form of teacher-assessed grades, with training and support provided to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently.”
To read the rest of the Education Secretary’s statement, please click here https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/education-secretary-statement-to-parliament-on-national-lockdown
For full details on the new restrictions, please visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home