There's no algorithm for GCSE results, but I still worry about the future of ‘generation Covid'

Young people have proved they have resilience, strength and ambition. But this isn’t the end and teachers will continue to have sleepless nights about what lies ahead

Aimee Coelho
Thursday 20 August 2020 09:22 BST
Changes to how exams are decided are 'shambolic', says Keir Starmer

As thousands of teenagers find out the next stage of their destiny today with GCSE results, the nation is breathing a collective sigh of relief that their future has not been determined by the algorithm.

Students should all be congratulating themselves, no matter what their grades, as their protests have forced the government to listen. Resilience, strength and ambition are all qualities that are standing out for these young people. But this isn’t the end. And educational professionals will continue to have sleepless nights, that have been so far punctuated by the grim tableaus and lack of clarity that the pandemic continues to throw at us.

Like many public servants, we are becoming haunted by decisions that we have no control over. It starts with the too-late announcement that schools were being closed “indefinitely”, continues with the long consultation over our pupils’ grades, jolted by the fact that the computer was going to override them, relieved that this was backtracked, and now burdened by the uncertainty of what September and the schools reopening may bring.

Control is being ruthlessly stripped away from us and the generation of children that we teach. I’m very conscious that, of course, in the midst of a pandemic, it’s very difficult to give much clarity, but I and my colleagues wish those in charge at a national level were providing more specific advice and that they would start listening to the professionals before making ill-conceived decisions.

I have a vague idea of how my classroom will look in September, but I’m not getting too stuck in because I know that those plans may change. I know there will be no group work, desks will be in rows, and we will be encouraging hand washing. I’m not worried about returning to the classroom – the anxiety is caused by not knowing how we plan to cater for those exam classes that need to catch up and the loss of school life as we know it. We’ve had some vague advice but nothing solid.

Amongst the trauma of the school leavers, are our next cohort of exam takers. They’ve been forced to learn remotely for months and will face stiffer competition, as they battle for university places next year. But I know that as a profession we will continue to try our best, no matter what is thrown at us and our charges.

I am thinking too of the school leavers who are being forced to take a gap year because of a lack of places available at their chosen university. Why isn’t anyone suggesting a way to provide paid work experience for those who can’t go onto higher education this year? Once a student leaves my care, they don’t leave my thoughts and I am also concerned about the mental health crisis that may explode because of the lack of accountability for a system that was bound to fail.

So this is my rallying call: we must all provide a solution for generation Covid, to reduce the lasting effects of what has happened this year.

Ofqual chairman Roger Taylor says exam regulator took the "wrong road" on A-level and GCSE grading

The pandemic is not going to go away and along with that, neither will the need to provide a space for our students to learn both inside and outside the classroom, with clear safety measures in place. We want our school leavers and those joining school again in September to realise that they will continue to learn.

The good news is that they have already shown us they care about their futures and that they can push for change. The government now needs to give teachers the chance to facilitate it.

Aimee Coelho is a freelance journalist and secondary school teacher in the South West.

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