Warn the poorest students will be further behind now that exams are back

Students took the GCSE and A-level exams this year for the first time since 2019 (Getty)

Students took the GCSE and A-level exams this year for the first time since 2019 (Getty)

Most teachers believe that poorer students will fall further behind their wealthier peers as exams return this year, according to new research.

An education union warned it was the “great danger” of the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic as students await GCSE and A-level results.

Exams were canceled for two consecutive years due to the coronavirus – which also kept students at home for months on end – before returning this year.

Fears were raised about the impact on disadvantaged students, who research suggested were hardest hit by the disruption caused by the pandemic.

A new report from the Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, has revealed concerns that the long-standing gap will get even wider this year with the return of GCSE and A-level exams.

He suggested that the majority of teachers – 72% of a sample surveyed – felt that the poorest students at their school would lag even further behind their wealthier peers this year.

Nearly 29% thought there would be a “moderate” increase in the performance gap, while 19% thought it would be “substantial,” according to a survey of more than 4,000 teachers.

This comes after the performance gap appeared to widen during last year’s GCSE and A-level results, with private schools seeing a larger increase in the number of high grades.

The Sutton Trust report also suggested that poorer students had less experience taking exams in a formal setting compared with more affluent peers ahead of this year’s exam season.

The experience of A-level students likely relied on mock exams, with their GCSEs canceled due to the Covid pandemic.

Overall, 81% of A-level teachers said their students took simulations in an exam room in preparation for the real test, according to research by Teacher Tapp, a research app.

The number dropped to 68% of respondents in the poorest schools and rose to 87% in the richest.

“Students who have not taken a formal exam before may have found their exams this summer more daunting, which could affect their performance and therefore their final grades,” the Sutton Trust said in its new report.

A higher percentage of college applicants from working-class backgrounds said they didn’t feel prepared for this year’s exams – 37% – compared to 25% from the middle class.

The Liberal Democrats claimed that the government had repeatedly “refused” to fulfill its duty to “help and support disadvantaged children”.

“Conservatives continue to fail young people, despite all the talk about leveling up, there is nothing to show for it when it comes to our children,” said Munira Wilson, their education spokesperson.

“This is an absolute moral failure on the part of conservatives.”

Munira Wilson says the government has 'nothing to show' to level up when it comes to children (PA)

Munira Wilson says the government has ‘nothing to show’ to level up when it comes to children (PA)

Tom Middlehurst, from the Association of School and College Union, said education in the Covid pandemic has been “extremely challenging” for everyone involved, with illness and isolation affecting students and staff over the past two years.

“The big danger is that the disruption has greatly affected disadvantaged students in particular and that the gap between them and other students will widen in this year’s outcome set,” he said.

The Sutton Trust’s A Levels and University Access 2022 report also surveyed students about absence levels this year, finding that more than a fifth of A-level students who applied to university missed more than 20 days of school, while a third missed 11 or more days.

James Turner, chief executive of the social mobility charity, said the research shows that “the impacts of the pandemic on education are far from over” and its consequences “are still being felt among young people”.

“As we approach results day and a more competitive university admissions cycle than ever before, we must ensure that the poorest young people have a fair chance of success,” he said.

“Universities must pay additional attention to disadvantaged students who have just lost their grades and ensure that recent gains in expanding access to higher education are not lost.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said: “In recognition of the disruption students have faced, we have worked with Ofqual to put in place several adaptations to this year’s exams. It is encouraging to see that more than three-quarters of university applicants found the advanced exam information useful.

They added: “To help students get back on track we have invested nearly £5bn, with over two million tutoring courses already initiated through the National Tutoring Program in around 80% of schools”.

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