A call from the leader of one of the country’s biggest trusts that lockdown-style teacher grades be awarded to pupils in schools affected by RAAC crumbly concrete appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
Nick Hurn, the chief executive of the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, said he did not want any of the pupils at his four schools impacted by reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) to be “disadvantaged through this unprecedented situation”.
St Leonard’s secondary school in Durham has been most heavily affected with some year groups having to learn remotely four days a week.
Hurn has called for special consideration for pupils in primary and secondary exam years and “centre-assessed grades for the duration of this upheaval” – similar to when exams were cancelled in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
“During Covid there was a clear plan in place to support pupils during that incredibly disruptive period,” he said.
‘Not possible’ to address differential impact, says DfE
But the Department for Education said “like with many unforeseen circumstances, it is not possible to address the differential impact that RAAC has or will have on students’ learning by making changes to exams and assessments for some students/groups of students”.
It added that exams must demonstrate what a pupil knows rather than what a he or she might have known “should circumstances have been different”.
Exams regulator Ofqual said GCSE and A-level pupils were only eligible for special consideration if there was a problem at the time of the exam, not if their learning was disrupted.
Marks could only be adjusted under special consideration rules if there were events outside their control “at the time of the assessment”, says guidance from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
They were not eligible if their performance was affected by the “quality of teaching, staff shortages, building work or lack of facilities”.
Schools are collecting evidence for teacher grades if exams have to be cancelled in future. But this is not for “localised disruption to teaching and learning”.
JCQ previously said schools unable to host autumn series exams “will need to review the contingency plans” for their sites.
Parents protest over rebuild concerns
Parents at St Leonard’s protested outside the school (pictured above), which is on the school rebuilding programme, on Wednesday during a visit from Baroness Barran, the academies minister.
Mary Kelly Foy, the City of Durham MP, said Barran gave assurances at the meeting that “the planned rebuild of the school is now being prioritised”.
“The minister has stressed that money will not be the barrier to getting pupils back in the classroom. I will hold the minister to that.”
The government has pledged to refurbish or rebuild schools that need it.
Bishop Wilkinson trust said it “shared” the “frustrations and disappointment of many parents of children”, adding: “We need to get back to having all our school community benefit from our excellent team of staff, teaching face-to-face lessons as soon as practicably possible.”