Education Return and Awarding Qualifications in 2021 - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:28 pm on 1st March 2021.

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Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 2:28 pm, 1st March 2021

My Lords, I thank the Minister for this Statement. The last 12 months have been like a giant wrecking ball for the education of our children. We welcome the reopening of schools and the Covid measures that the Government have put in place, but we have consistently argued that individual schools are best placed to respond to their circumstances. We should give head teachers the flexibility to know how to operate their schools safely.

We welcome that Sir Kevan Collins will work on the recovery plan, crucially together with teachers, schools and parents. It is important that we get this right. Each child’s circumstances vary enormously. The learning gap has widened. Today, the Education Policy Institute has reported that sixth-form and college students from poorer homes find themselves about three A-level grades behind their more affluent colleagues. A few extra lessons of catch-up will not compensate for a year’s loss of mainstream education. We need a rigorous and far-reaching plan to ensure that nobody is left behind. I am surprised that there is no mention in the Statement either of additional support for the well-being and mental health of children, or of children with special educational needs.

I turn to this summer’s exams. Thank goodness that there will not be assessment by algorithm. It is right to have teacher assessment. The amount of learning and study that each pupil has been able to access will vary enormously. Teacher assessment is the only fair way to understand individual pupils’ circumstances and learning. Can the Minister confirm that there will be no school league tables of results? Why not use a more broadly based quality assurance model rather than relying on random sampling? I am sure the Minister is concerned about grade inflation. What plans do the Government have to reverse it?

Finally, how will home-educated children and older adults be assessed for GCSEs and A-levels? I am sorry to spring that question on the Minister. If she does not know the answer, perhaps she could write to me.

Teachers and support staff have worked flat out to keep school learning on the road. We owe our school staff a huge debt of thanks for their dedication and professionalism.