Coronavirus: Concerns as school pupils seek supermarket jobs

Pupils who believe they have already passed their GCSEs and A-levels and have been trying to get supermarket and “gig economy” jobs before the end of the school year, a prominent school leader has warned.

Martyn Oliver, chief executive of the Outwood Grange Academies Trust, said participation in online learning among year 11s and year 13s was “very poor”.

He also revealed that some pupils in his trust had sought permission to take jobs in supermarkets, feeling that their education had come to an end. But the trust has denied them permission to do so.

“We understand the pressure on them, but unless anyone defines it differently, they haven’t left school and they should be engaged with education,” he told Schools Week.

Employment law states that pupils aged 15 and 16 can only work up to 12 hours a week during term time. This goes up to 35 hours in school holidays. However, there are no such term-time restrictions for 17 and 18-year-olds.

The closure of schools and cancellation of this summer’s exams have prompted concerns that pupils who were due to sit GCSEs and A-levels this year will simply stop learning, leaving them ill-prepared for transition into further or higher education.

In response to a recent survey by Teacher Tapp, 28 per cent of teachers and leaders said they were no longer teaching year 11 pupils.

At Outwood Grange, pupils are being set “small amounts” of work to complete at home. If work is not done, staff check in on pupils to see if they are safe, and to encourage them to participate. Pupils are not punished for not doing so.

“It’s not a question of bringing it in, marking it and carrying on as normal. It’s about making sure these children still feel they belong to their school,” Oliver said.

“It will be far easier for us to return to normal if everyone is equally behind, but still feeling like part of their school.”

In a blog published by campaign group Parents and Teachers for Excellence, Oliver said online lessons were running “at 70 per cent in primary and 77 per cent in secondary”.

But he told Schools Week those figures were being “dragged down” by years 11 and 13.

“As far as they’re concerned, they’ve passed. Some of them are even trying to get into the gig economy, get work in supermarkets. We don’t want them doing that.”

Continuity of learning for year 11s is a particular concern for the schools community.

Last week, Leora Cruddas, the chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said schools should set year 11s work based on their chosen post-16 courses to ensure they are “meaningfully engaged in learning” and the disadvantaged attainment gap doesn’t widen.

Cruddas, who has been liaising closely with the government on its response to the crisis, said it was vital “wherever possible” that pupils in year 13 and 11 are “kept meaningfully engaged in learning”.

“If year 11 students, in particular, were to stop being meaningfully taught in April and not re-engage with formal education until September, there will be a very significant loss of learning and a much wider gap by September between the disadvantaged and their peers.”

But Oliver told Schools Week he was “loathed” move on “from consolidating to teaching new material”, fearing the situation could lead to “bigger gaps”.

“Some of [the pupils] are not well. Their families are dying. We’ve had deaths of family members, staff, parents of children. I’ve got staff going into their ninth day of sickness. What’s more important than that? Nothing.”