Coronavirus: Exams fiasco ‘will be nothing compared to brewing scandal’ of education inequality, expert warns | The Independent

Coronavirus: Exams fiasco ‘will be nothing compared to brewing scandal’ of education inequality, expert warns | The Independent


Coronavirus: Exams fiasco ‘will be nothing compared to brewing scandal’ of education inequality, expert warns | The Independent

Coronavirus: Exams fiasco ‘will be nothing compared to brewing scandal’ of education inequality, expert warns | The Independent

Coronavirus: Exams fiasco ‘will be nothing compared to brewing scandal’ of education inequality, expert warns | The Independent 1

This year’s exams grading fiasco “will be nothing” in comparison with a brewing “scandal” awaiting students next year unless prompt action is taken to avert it, a government adviser has warned.

With coronavirus having seen schools largely closed for four months, a vast gulf has opened up between the hours of education received by some of the most disadvantaged pupils and those at private schools.

Speaking during a briefing by the Independent Sage group on their recommendations for how to safely manage the return to universities, one member warned that “one of the greatest problems might be next year”.

“Children in state schools in the most deprived areas have lost four months of education and those in the private schools, we know from the figures, they have their classes going on with online platforms all the time,” said Professor Stephen Reicher, who also participates in the Sage subcommittee for behavioural science, SPI-B.

“That’s a massive inequality. If that isn’t taken into account in the way we think about the academic year, and in the way we organise the exams, then there will be a scandal every bit as much as this year, and like this year we cannot wait until it happens to deal with it.

“So there are massive issues of equalities here which the government need to be dealing with now, because if they don’t then the problems we’ve had in the last few weeks will be nothing compared to the massive problems we’re going to have in a year’s time.

He added that he hoped universities would be prescient of the looming problem, “because it is coming”.

The warning comes as universities grapple with the influx of new students in the autumn, following a last-minute governmental U-turn to allow students to use teachers’ recommended grades, after nearly 40 per cent of marks were downgraded by an algorithm based on schools’ past performances.

With the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service having revealed some 15,000 students rejected by their first-choice will now meet offer their conditions after Monday’s volte-face, universities minister Michelle Donelan has written to vice-chancellors asking them to honour all offers accepted.

Once admissions capacity is reached and additional places cannot be provided “then providers will see if a student would like a suitable alternative course or offer a deferred place, and where possible try to prioritise those from disadvantaged backgrounds for admission this year”, Ms Donelan wrote, according to the Press Association.

The government “has managed to make the problem even worse … by leaving it so late to change tack on exams,” said Universities and College Union president, Vicky Blake, who called for a financial bailout for universities.

There has so far been sparse discussion of how the surge of deferred places could have a knock-on effect the following year, with universities left to decide how to safely accommodate this year’s cohort.

Asked whether there were concerns that a likely rise in admissions could heighten the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks on campus, Ms Blake replied: “What we’re seeing is plans that might already unnecessarily risk health if for the sake of it we’re putting people into a room together.

“Now if the numbers go up to the point where we would struggle in a normal year to accommodate them in a lecture theatre, then even the small group teaching is going to be a problem, in terms of space but also in terms of the staff, many of whom have been laid off already, citing coronavirus-related financial issues.”

Her comments echoed others made during an Independent Sage briefing on Friday, in which the self-styled shadow group of advisors set out their recommendations for a safe return to universities.

Among the measures were calls for universities to use remote learning as the “default option”, and for the government to supply pupils with free equipment and broadband to do so where necessary.

However, a June survey by the representative body Universities UK indicated that 97 per cent of institutions were planning to provide in-person teaching at the start of term this year.

The scientists also urged that students refrain from face-to-face interactions during their first two weeks on campus, with freshers’ week to be held online and for students to be involved in creating a “conduct charter”.

They advocated for regular and compulsory testing for all students and staff to avoid further outbreaks, citing university closures seen in the US.


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