Labour is calling for next year’s A-levels and GCSEs in England to be delayed because of coronavirus – as pupils going back to some schools are warned they could be sent home for « malicious coughing » or making « inappropriate » jokes about the pandemic.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said exams should be pushed back to allow extra teaching time as pupils now face a « mountain to climb » after losing out on up to six months of teaching because of COVID-19.
Ms Green said: « Pupils across the country who have missed out on vital teaching time will have a mountain to climb to prepare for May exams unless the government steps in.
« Ministers had warning after warning about problems with this year’s exam results, but allowed it to descend into a fiasco.
« This is too important for Boris Johnson to leave until the last minute. Pupils heading back to school need clarity and certainty about the year ahead. »
The shadow education secretary told Sky News there are « no ideal solutions in the crisis that we’re in ».
Speaking to Sky News @ Breakfast, Ms Green said: « We really need to put young people first when we’re thinking about this and make sure that they’re given every possible opportunity to perform to their best and to be able to show their potential when it comes to the year-end assessment.
« That’s why we’ve suggested delaying the exam date, so there’s more time for teaching and learning, obviously commensurate with there being enough time for the exams to be marked and the results to be agreed and then for colleges and universities to run their admissions process. »
She acknowledged the change could prove to be « challenging », but added: « I think it is really important that the government does the work to do that detailed planning now and to have a contingency plan in place for if exams can’t take place next summer. »
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said Labour’s proposal was « worthy of serious consideration ».
He said: « A delay is not without its problems, a consequential delay to the publication of results will put pressure on higher education providers such as universities and colleges as well as employers. All this will need to be dealt with. »
A DfE spokesperson said: « We recognise that students due to take exams next summer will have experienced disruption to their education, which is why we prioritised bringing Year 10 and Year 12 pupils back to school last term.
« Exams will go ahead next year, and we have been working closely with the sector, Ofqual and exam boards to consider our approach. »
Schools across England will open for pupils in all year groups on Tuesday – and many have brought in strict new rules due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pupils at Ark Alexandra Academy in Hastings, East Sussex could be excluded for « deliberate or malicious coughs/sneezes at any point; humorous, inappropriate comments or statements related to the coronavirus; purposeful physical contact with any other person ».
Byron Academy in Acton, west London, said in a letter to parents that if a pupil refuses to follow hygiene routines and social distancing instructions they will « immediately be moved to a separate area ».
It said: « Some behaviours (eg coughing deliberately on another person) that were previously ‘simply’ anti-social, are now potentially extremely serious. »
The Department for Education (DfE) has said schools should make the consequences of bad behaviour clear, particularly around new movement restrictions and hygiene rules.
In its updated guidance for schools, it said on Friday: « It is likely that adverse experiences or lack of routines of regular attendance and classroom discipline may contribute to disengagement with education upon return to school, resulting in increased incidence of poor behaviour. »
The DfE added that schools should work with pupils « who may struggle to re-engage » by providing them with support « for overcoming barriers to attendance and behaviour and to help them re-integrate back into school life ».
Pupils in Scotland and Northern Ireland now have to wear face masks in school corridors and communal areas to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.
Linda Hamilton, headteacher at Springburn Academy in Glasgow, told Sky News that face coverings will be a « good safety precaution ».
« It’s very very difficult for the young people to socially distance in the corridors, the corridors are quite narrow in the school, » she said.
« It’s quite difficult at social times, when they’re coming and going from different places in the school, to keep their distance. »
In England, the government made a U-turn last week when it decided that masks should be mandatory in secondary schools – but only in regions where lockdown measures are in place due to an increase in local cases.
Meanwhile, a higher education union has warned that universities could become the « care homes of the second wave of COVID-19 ».
© 2020 Sky UK
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