Exams Cancelled – Seize the Moment!

What’s been said?

We all know that we are in another national lockdown no matter where in the UK we live. The papers and magazines all know it too, rushing to offer advice to parents on how to home school their children or to let us know how a host of celebrities are coping with children at home twenty-four seven. Amongst the articles on offer, one by seasoned EHE academic Dr Harriet Pattison stands out Home schooling expert urges parents to ignore ‘outdated advice’ after classrooms shut across country.  It is an excellent example of how home educators can seize the moment.

Not everyone will be up for writing in the press, but the cancellation of GCSE and A-Level exams this summer is an ideal opportunity for the EHE community to influence the narrative. We all remember the injustice of last year and how around twenty thousand private candidates were unable to obtain grades because the DfE and Ofqual overlooked them until it was too late.

To date, the mood music has been more positive. Announcing the cancellation of exams in the Commons on 6 January, Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, was asked by Joy Morrissey (Con Beaconsfield):

“Last year, the approach to GCSEs and A-levels meant that private candidates, such as home educated children, were unable to obtain a grade. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this year they will be able to do so?”

Williamson replied:

“My hon. Friend speaks not just for her constituents, but for many thousands of youngsters right across the country who are worried about this. I have asked Ofqual to take up this issue, to look at it directly and to make sure that there are measures in place so that those students will be in a position to get a grade. I have asked Ofqual to include that as part of the consultation that it will be doing next week. We have already discussed how this can be done, and we believe that it will be possible to do so.” [Emphasis added]

Earlier that day Simon Lebus, recently appointed Chief Regulator at Ofqual, stated in a press release,

“Following the government’s announcement on Monday evening, we also need to consider how alternative arrangements will work for different students, including those who are independent learners. We are discussing alternative arrangements with the Department for Education.” [Emphasis added]

The signs are much better than last year therefore, and so they should be. However, that does not mean that EHE families should sit back and relax.

Why does it matter?

First and foremost, in a system where exam grades provide the means for many young people to take the next step in their education or work journey, it is important that they are not once again disadvantaged by the “too hard” mentality which paralysed the DfE last year. It is therefore important that HE parents and candidates maintain contact with the Department and Ofqual. Press them to announce without delay how they plan to make awarding grades possible, so that this summer’s candidates know what they are working towards.

The closure of schools for a number of weeks at least and the cancellation of exams also present an opportunity for the whole EHE community to create a positive public narrative around home education. There are endless media conversations at present about children and “lost learning.” Should we not raise our voices and say that the children whose learning has been disrupted the least by the response to COVID-19 have been those who were already being home educated? This is too big an opportunity to overlook!

Many of those twenty thousand candidates who could not obtain grades last year were home educated, exam-ready young people who had kept studying despite the chaos of a pandemic going on all around them. Hopefully many of them were able to successfully sit exams in the autumn series, though in far from ideal circumstances. Politicians and the general public need to hear about their hard work and resilience.

What can I do?

If you are looking for a straightforward first step, a petition was launched recently calling on the Government to “Ensure private candidates are able to take exams in 2021”. Please consider signing it and then sharing it with others.

Writing through your MP to both the Minister and Ofqual means that you can put your concerns in writing once and ask for copies to be sent to both. Yes, you will receive standard replies in most cases, but the number of letters received by all concerned will make an impression. You will also able to write back and continue the conversation if you feel the respondent didn’t properly engage with your concerns. Remember that letters from the exam candidates themselves will probably have a higher impact than those from parents.

Should you have difficulty finding an exam centre once arrangements are announced, consider contacting your local councillor and asking them if they can help. Even if they have no idea what to do, it will make them aware of local HE students who are taking exams and help to counter the negative narratives of the LGA and ADCS to which they are regularly exposed.

In response to last year’s chaos, a group of parents involved in the long-established Home Education Exams UK email list – their website is HE Exams Wiki – decided to try and start up a conversation with Ofqual. They now have their own email list, Home Educators’ Qualifications Association and website. If you are motivated to contribute to the discussion, or simply support those involved, why not join HEQA?

Finally, over the coming weeks there will no doubt be endless national and local live phone-in conversations on home-schooling and exam grades. Very few of the presenters will think about discussing the needs of EHE young people. What would the outcome be in the mind of the general public if during every phone-in they heard HE young people and parents say how they have been continuing their education throughout the lockdowns and are hoping that it will be possible to obtain accurate grades this summer, unlike last year?

Whilst this Byte is about events in England, the issues are the same in all the devolved nations. Therefore, go for it Team EHE, our young people deserve better treatment!