Parents dismayed by exam decision at Raac-affected school

St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham has been told it cannot assess its own pupils’ grades at GCSE and A-level.

Tom Wilkinson
Friday 13 October 2023 11:59 BST
Parents demonstrate in support of St Leonard’s Catholic School, Durham, which has been disrupted by sub standard reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) (Tom Wilkinson/PA)
Parents demonstrate in support of St Leonard’s Catholic School, Durham, which has been disrupted by sub standard reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) (Tom Wilkinson/PA)

Parents at a school where teaching has been badly affected by the crumbling concrete crisis have been dismayed to hear that GCSE and A-level exams will be marked as normal next summer.

St Leonard’s Catholic School in Durham is frequently among the top-performing state schools in the North East at GCSE level, but education of the 1,490 pupils has been badly disrupted after the potentially dangerous reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) was found in several buildings.

For weeks, some pupils have had to be taught online at home while those year groups that could still go in faced large class sizes, some taught in corridors or off-site in the offices of the trust that runs the school.

An action plan has been brought in to split the site, with younger years taught at Ushaw College, a former seminary on the outskirts of Durham.

Those taking GCSEs and A-levels this summer have missed out on weeks of quality teaching, their parents have said.

The Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust (BWCET) applied to be allowed to use centre assessed grades, as happened during lockdown when teachers graded their own pupils.

Ofqual, the body which regulates exams in the UK, said: “Schools and colleges have contingency plans in place for precisely this reason – and where there has been disruption, they should get in touch with their exam boards to discuss any further arrangements they may need to help minimise disruption and any impact on students.”

The Department for Education believed qualifications should represent what students know, rather than what they might have known had circumstances been different.

Maria Baxter, who has a son in year 11, said: “I am really disappointed, it is going to impact massively on their end results.

“We are going to have to try everything possible, by writing letters to the exam boards.”

Ms Baxter said even if exams were not being affected currently, pupils were still disadvantaged as coursework, which counts towards their grades, had been disrupted.

“It’s not that they are lazy, if it was their choice and they didn’t care then be it on their head, but it is nothing to do with that, it’s not their fault and this is the really frustrating thing.”

Ken Morrey, whose daughter is in year 10, said: “My reaction to all of this is one of disgust.

“My daughter is being failed by those whose job it is to provide her with education and fair assessment.”

Head boy James Smith, who is hoping to study physiotherapy at university, said A-level students were still struggling to get access to science labs.

He said: “There has been disruption from day one and there is no firm plan on how this lost learning can be made up.”

Nick Hurn, CEO of the BWCET, said they will now contact exam boards with their concerns for pupils and catch-up measures will be put in place.

He said: “We are taking all steps available to us, through the correct channels, to raise our concerns. We will keep parents and carers informed when we have further updates.  

“BWCET and St Leonard’s know how difficult this situation is right now and how concerned our parents and carers are regarding examinations and grading, and indeed we share the same concerns.

“We know there is significant time and resources needed to catch up for our students both academically and socially.”

Mary Kelly Foy, Labour MP for Durham, has written to Universities UK to make the case for St Leonard’s pupils who have aspirations of going into higher education.

The MP wrote: “These young people have so far lost half a term of face-to-face teaching.

“They have been forced into learning at home, or in year groups, without desks, and without access to their previous work as it is locked in Raac-affected parts of the school.

“The latest information I have received is that it is likely to be November before the whole school will be able to return to face-to-face teaching.

“The pupils of St Leonard’s school do not deserve to have their futures torn from beneath them due to the Government’s neglect of the school estate in recent years.”

Plans are being put in place to have the school rebuilt.

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