Yesterday I led a Westminster Hall debate on the impact of Covid-19 on Education. I did this as part of my role on the petitions committee, where petitions which receive over 100,000 signatures are debated in Parliament.
This has been a topic of central focus throughout this year on the Education Select Committee, and in my role on the APPG for Dyspraxia. I have been fortunate to have been in regular contact with teachers and schools in Ipswich over the course of this pandemic to get a sense for how the pandemic has affected students.
I wanted to raise a number of points on behalf of the petitioners, but I also wanted to thank teachers for the incredible work they have been doing this year.
There is an important point that we shouldn’t make assumptions or generalisations about how students have been affected during this pandemic. Every single child has been affected differently by this pandemic and if we want to ensure that students who have lost out on learning over this year make it up, we need to ensure that catch-up is tailored to individual students and their needs.
It is also clear that the pandemic has taken its toll on student’s mental health. I really believe that we must be careful of the words we use for the sake of student’s mental health. Some of the words used by the media, for example, refer to a ‘lost generation’. We shouldn’t belittle the scale of the challenge, but we need to be positive about the future, and be sensitive to student’s anxieties that they will be able to achieve their full potential.
I also wanted to address SEND students who have been incredibly affected, particularly those who do not have an EHCP plan and so could not go into school for additional support but rather had to undertake online learning. These are unconventional thinkers who often need to be able to ask teachers for points of clarification or explanation on tasks and who might require more tailored learning to reach their potential. I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard about the new tutoring system, that a lot of SEND specialists have contributed to the programme. This is positive.
This is relevant to those students who do not speak English as their first language as well. We have a large Roma community in Ipswich who are not first language English speakers and lots of schools in our town were making tremendous progress with these pupils before the pandemic. Unfortunately, over the school closures there are concerns from headteachers that this has gone backwards so it is vital that these students are given the resources and attention to get back to where they were.
Some students also prefer to sit exams because they might be unconventional learners who consolidate their knowledge during revision and they rely on the opportunity to prove themselves in exams. With exams cancelled, this year has been hard on these pupils, and I believe that it is crucial that they are given a voice when it comes to how their attainment is assessed.
It is important that headteachers and teachers who know students best are given as much flexibility as possible to decide how best to assess student’s attainment, whether it is in mock exams, in class assessments, or coursework. It is also vital that the students themselves are able to feed into this decision to ensure that they get the opportunity to reach the grades they deserve.