Like all other secondary schools in England, The Leigh Academy closed on 20th March 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All teaching provision was switched immediately to online learning, via Google Classroom but no online ‘live’ lessons were allowed by the Trust to which we belong. The academy remained closed to all but the children of key workers and those identified as vulnerable until 1st June 2020, during which time teachers ran their provision from home, via Google Classroom. From 1st June until 17th July, we adopted a blended learning approach, with Year 12 students invited to return to school for two hours of face to face teaching per week per subject but remotely studying from home for the rest of the time. The academy reopened full time for all students from 1st September 2020.
Normally, we begin to prepare Year 12 students for university applications from Easter onward, with weekly assemblies and follow up tutor time activities that take students through every stage of the process, from deciding upon a course, selecting a university and writing a personal statement to completing a UCAS application and preparing for interviews. All of this provision had to be switched to remote preparation, with the creation of a dedicated Google Site (accessed via the academy website), containing advice, guidance and help in the form of links, information, videos, templates and pre-recorded assemblies delivered by the Director of Post-16 from home and uploaded to YouTube. (This Google Site can be accessed here: https://leighacademy.org.uk/post-18-options/) Even though we feel we provided everything that Year 12 students would usually have received by way of information and guidance, we know that many students didn’t or couldn’t access it from home during the pandemic and it was certainly not as impactful as our usual face to face delivery. As a result, many students have been seriously delayed in preparing to apply for university.
Year 12 students receive school reports three times per year, at Christmas, Easter and the end of the academic year. The Class of 2021 therefore received reports with predicted grades at Christmas of Year 12 but not thereafter, as the academy had closed and staff were monitoring remote engagement, rather than academic progress. Year 13 students will have received their first report and set of predicted grades in mid-October 2020 but these will not necessarily reflect students’ potential, as so much of the first half term of Year 13 will have been spent on reengaging students and assessing gaps in their knowledge caused by school closure. They will have received a much clearer set of predicted grades at Christmas of 2020, though they will only have taken their mock exams in the last two weeks before Christmas and grades for those exams will not be available to inform predicted grades till January, just as the 15th January UCAS deadline arrives (by which time most Year 13 students will have applied for university). Year 12 students would normally have taken end of year internal exams in July 2020 and these would have contributed significantly to predicted grades. As not all students felt safe to return to the academy in June and July 2020 (it was not compulsory but was encouraged that they attend), the end of year exams were cancelled.
As guidance was both delayed and changeable during the pandemic, vocational students in two thirds of our L3 BTEC subjects were not given Centre Assessed Grades for exam units, as teachers chose to wait for students’ first entry for those units till January 2021. As a result, only students taking Sport, Performing Arts (Acting) and Creative Digital Media Production were awarded CAGs for exam units they would have taken in May 2020, while those taking ICT (Single and Double), Health and Social Care (Single and Double), Business, Digital Media and Science Applied were not awarded CAGs and will have to take their exams in January 2021. This will not only increase their exam load in Year 13 but it will make predicting grades for those qualifications harder. Conversely, for those vocational students who were awarded CAGs, the re-grading undertaken by Pearson after initial results were released has left some students with what could be described as inflated grades and this, too, will make predicting final overall grades harder for teachers, before the UCAS deadline in January 2021.
We deliver L3 BTEC qualifications, LIBF diplomas, A levels and IB diploma courses (both free-standing and within the IBCP). The outcome of the Ofqual review of exam content for summer 2021 remains uncertain and teachers are unclear about what content they will be expected to deliver in order to prepare students for final examinations. Not knowing whether teachers will have to rush to catch up on missed content from the period of school closure in order to fit the entire curriculum in before final exams, whether Ofqual will accept the IBO’s global proposal to reduce the number of exams in May 2021 and remove curriculum content in all the subjects we offer except SL Mathematics: Applications and Interpretations and whether A levels and L3 BTECs will have their curriculum reduced and exam papers adapted all make predicting grades exceptionally difficult for the Class of 2021.