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Covid means GCSE and A-Level pupils at disadvantage due to lack of exam experience, says St-Anselm's Catholic School headteacher

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Pupils taking GCSEs and A-Levels this year may be disadvantaged because Covid-19 has meant many have not had any previous experience of sitting formal tests.

As the exam season for thousands of pupils gets under way Mike Walters, the headteacher of St-Anselm's Catholic School in Canterbury and chairman of the Kent Association of Headteachers, said the ramifications of Covid were continuing to be a challenge for both students and teachers.

Mike Walters from Kent Association of Headteachers
Mike Walters from Kent Association of Headteachers

"There was never going to be a perfect time to resume testing children in the way we do," he said.

"I think this is as good a time as any. We certainly wouldn't have wanted to have teacher-assessment grades ad infinitum. My concerns for this cohort are two-fold. I think we can support them and the exam season will run as normal perfectly well.

"My concern is that they have not had the experience as their peers in the past have had by sitting mock exams in a school hall. More importantly, children this year have had less sense of agency and control over what happens to them than they ordinarily would."

He cited the example of a typical GCSE pupil who by Year 11, if they had attended lessons and revised well, would "have a sense they are entirely in control of what happens and it is down to them."

"For a number of children this year, this doesn't apply... there has been differential disruption; schools taking pragmatic decisions about what they do or don't deliver, even with some guidance from the exam boards about what they are examined on, it is fair to say there will be cases of children who have been disadvantaged by the pandemic.

"There is some inherent unfairness backed into the system this year."

Exam season is underway Stock picture: PA/David Davies
Exam season is underway Stock picture: PA/David Davies

Those taking A-Levels did not get a GCSE experience and doing exams, which in some cases last three hours, was "asking a lot" said Mr Walters.

The exam season has also produced a problem for schools caused by an apparent shortage of people willing to invigilate exams.

Some schools experiencing problems say Covid-19 has stopped some returning to monitor exams.

Mr Walters said: "An increasing demand and a reduction in supply has left us in quite a tricky position. In our three schools we have managed it by hook or by crook and it is something we will have to be aware of in future years."

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