SSAT is not aligned to any political party – we welcome policies that we and our members believe are right for young people and constructively criticise those policies that are not. We advocate deep social justice and welcomed the prime minister’s theme of “levelling up” as the overarching theme of his government’s domestic policy agenda. Throughout this pandemic, the government has disregarded the young. At almost every turn, it has failed to put in place adequate measures to reduce the impact of Covid, which has been hugely disruptive to their education and wellbeing.
The government has taken no responsibility for ensuring this year’s exam results are fair to young people; and an ill-advised reform to vocational education that its own assessment says will disproportionately affect young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. New research from the Sutton Trust shows that affluent parents have been more likely to put pressure on teachers to improve their children’s exam grades. Some schools have been threatened with legal action by parents trying to secure the grades their children need to get into university. The government should have done more to build safeguards against this into the system, given that children from poorer backgrounds tend to do better in an exam-based system than one based on teacher assessment, and that the most selective universities are expected to take fewer young people from disadvantaged backgrounds this year due to this group of young people being bigger than in previous years.
The government is compounding this with its foolhardy decision to scrap the majority of BTecs in favour of its preferred new vocational qualification, T-levels, a decision the former education secretary Kenneth Baker has described as “an act of vandalism”. BTecs are a relatively robust vocational qualification that help working-class students access higher education: almost half of white working-class young people who go to university have at least one BTec and 36% of black students who go to university have only BTecs. T-levels, which follow GCSEs and are equivalent to three A-levels, were only launched last year and are relatively untested. The abrupt phasing out of BTecs will only harm the prospects of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. And this comes when the government has resolutely failed to provide sufficient catch-up funding to close the widening gap opened up by the pandemic, such that it prompted its education recovery chief Sir Kevan Collins to resign in June, warning that it did “not come close” to what was needed. As a society, we continue to invest far more in young people who go to university than those who do not.
The government has also abandoned any leadership in relation to the university system. There has been no fee rebate for young people who have missed months of in-person teaching. Unsurprisingly, fewer than three in 10 students thought this represented good value. Most universities will offer a blend of online and in-person teaching next year; there has been little discussion about what this means for students’ academic experience and wellbeing.
Last week, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced the government would roll out a tiny pot of cash to trial the teaching of Latin in a handful of secondary schools. It is a gimmicky initiative designed to draw attention away from the government’s abject failure to do enough to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children and young people. But no distraction technique can disguise the fact that the fundamental injustices in our education system are getting progressively worse, with the gap in attainment between children from richer and poorer backgrounds growing even further last year. This will affect the prospects of a whole generation for decades to come and the responsibility for that lies with no one other than this government.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen school leaders, teachers and all school staff working tirelessly to ensure that all students receive the best education possible. We hope that you have all had some relaxation over the summer holidays. As we start the new academic year, we want to thank you for your leadership and share some thoughts on positive actions that schools can be considering for the new year:
This is part of your membership and there is no additional cost. SSAT has developed both the Student Leadership Accreditation (SLA) and Pupil Leadership Accreditation (PLA) as innovative way of recognising students/pupils’ leadership skills across a range of activities inside and outside the classroom. We can also offer in school training for students, student passports, and SSAT’s student audit toolkit.
In February 2019 the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) concluded that students in schools which have implemented this flexible programme, co-designed by Professor Dylan Wiliam and SSAT, made the equivalent of two months’ additional progress at GCSE. It will get your focus fully and squarely back on the core business of teaching and learning. There is more detail on our website or contact Corinne Settle.
This is for individuals, who are keen to carry out research in their school and to get accreditation.
All member schools have a free place on this innovative programme for teachers in the first 4/5 years of teaching.
Details of all these activities can be found on our website – all have moral purpose at their heart and are designed with school leaders. There is much more, including our ground-breaking work on equality. Do read Angelina Idun’s article – Where do we go from here? Each week, we will highlight activities and programmes that do make a difference and help “levelling up”.
Welcome back and thank you for last year and for all the amazing work you and your team do for young people. You are true role models.