Published: 18:43, 06 January 2021
| Updated: 19:21, 06 January 2021
Head teachers in Kent say a move to scrap exams for GCSE and A-level students is the right thing to do - but want more details about how the replacement plan to use teacher grades will work.
It comes as all schools are now closed to pupils across the country, except those deemed vulnerable or children of key workers, as another national lockdown has been introduced to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that exams would be scrapped this year and a system of teacher assessment would be used in their place.
He also set out plans to increase the number of laptops for schools to distribute to disadvantaged children with no access to a computer or other device at home.
Alan Brookes of the Kent Association of Headteachers and head of the Fulston Manor School in Sittingbourne said: “It would have been so much better if this [contingency plan] had been drawn up in September, so all schools would have been able to do course work and draw up assignments that were consistent across all schools.
"As it is now we will not be seeing the students until the end of February or some point in March, so it is going to be a very quick turn around.
"If pupils are off for another six or seven weeks, however well teachers are delivering home working there are a whole lot of discrepancies around whether pupils have enough devices in home.”
He said the gap between those from poorer backgrounds “would only grow” even with the government’s pledge to provide more laptops.
Mr Brookes said: “It doesn't solve it; the frustration is that we have been speaking about this for months.
"The government announced something in March but since then it has been coming in dribs and drabs.
"It doesn't solve the problem where there are three or four siblings in the same house.
"A lot of parents quite like live lessons but it is not a good idea when you have three or four children trying to use the same device.
"And it can be an expensive thing if you need more than one in a house.
"There are 1.5 million households without an internet connection so it doesn't go far enough."
He was cautious about another government plan that would see school children without a learning device being designated as ‘vulnerable’ and therefore able to come into school.
He added: "We have grown quite significantly the number of key worker children coming to school, so if we increase the number of vulnerable children the whole purpose of closing schools is going to get lost.
"If we are not careful we'll end up with full classes again.
"If we don't get the numbers down the whole purpose of this lockdown will unfortunately not be effective and will probably last longer."
Mr Brookes said the government should consider making teachers a priority group for the vaccine: "I think there is a logic to it. Some of the disruption that we had in the Christmas term happened because a lot of teachers got the virus then had to self isolate.
"So if schools are a priority then one way of doing that would be for them to be in the vaccination programme."
Analysis by KM political editor Paul Francis
Education secretary Gavin Williamson is not a politician to whom humility comes easily.
His skills, such as they are, seemed better suited to the job he once had as a Conservative whip, a position where the ability to apply thumb screws to would-be rebels to keep them in line is valued most.
Still, he wasn’t quite as aloof or sulky as he was last year when he was forced to cancel A Levels and GCSE exams in a way that suggested that everyone bar himself was to be blamed for the debacle caused by that exam board algorithm.
He even admitted that “lessons had been learned” from last year although clearly the one that hadn’t come up in his revision sessions was the one about avoiding embarrassing u-turns on key policy proposals.
'Some of the disruption that we had in the Christmas term happened because teachers got the virus then had to isolate...'
And he sought to head off another PR car crash by declaring that arrangements would be in place to ensure that those entitled to free school meals would continue to get them through a voucher scheme.
It might not make him BFF with Marcus Rashford but he has probably headed off another row.
He fended off opposition questions about how all the pieces of the exam jigsaw would fit together with a more conciliatory tone, saying it was never his intention when he took on the job to close schools.
Which in an odd way told you a lot about the hole he is in. It shouldn’t need saying but he felt compelled to say it and did so right at the start of his statement.
It was, nonetheless, better than last year’s effort but whether his colleagues and school teachers think he has made the grade or could do better is another matter.