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News round-up

07 Dec 2020 By Imogen Proud

Imogen Proud looks at the latest news from the education law world:

Schools

  • On 3 December 2020, Ministers announced extra measures in England to “boost fairness and support students” for next summer’s GCSE and A-level exams. These include: more generous grading in line with results from Summer 2020; advance notice at the end of January of exam topics; exam aids such as formula sheets; additional “backup” exams to be held in July for those missing a paper due to illness or self-isolation. A new expert group, which will monitor variation in the impact of the pandemic on students across the country, was also announced. In earlier years, year 6 ‘Sats’ test will go ahead, but Key Stage 1 testing will be cancelled for this academic year.
  • This follows earlier announcements on 7 October 2020 that National 5 exams are to be cancelled in Scotland and on 10 November 2020 that A-level and GCSE exams will be cancelled in Wales. In relation to England, however, Gavin Williamson has stated in the Commons that “exams are the best form of assessment we have” (see DfE’s video).
  • Reaction to the extra measures has been mixed. Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon warned that the huge grade inflation seen this year could now be “baked in”. The biggest teaching unions, including the National Education Union, have said that “it is far from clear that what the Government has announced will be enough to ensure fairness”.
  • Also on 3 December 2020, DfE confirmed that school inspection by Ofsted, suspended in March 2020, will not resume until after Easter 2021. Ofsted will instead conduct “supportive monitoring inspections” to schools and colleges currently judged to be “inadequate” and some that “require improvement”. School league tables will not be published next year.
  • Pioneering new online tutoring from King’s College London and the Traveller movement has been launched to prevent students from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (“GRT”) backgrounds from drifting from education during the pandemic. This is welcome news. Just 3-4% of people from GRT backgrounds attend university compared with 43% of their peers, according to King’s College London. This may be in part due to negative experiences in earlier education: Traveller Movement recently reported that two-thirds of Irish Travellers say they have been bullied by teachers, with 1 in 5 saying this made them leave school. It may also be due to lower attainment at school – which is exactly what the tutoring project aims to tackle.

Universities

  • A staggered return for university students to avoid new ‘spikes’ in campuses was announced on 2 December 2020, with students including medical students and those on placements or practical courses with a need for in-person teaching to return first from 4-18 January 2021. Other students are to return gradually between 25 January and 7 February 2021. All students “should” be offered Covid tests when they return to university to help identify asymptomatic carriers.
  • The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) has received commitments from 7 universities in its “Higher Education: Consumer Protection Review”. In March 2015 the CMA published advice to HE providers about their consumer law obligations to undergraduates. From October 2015, the CMA conducted a review to assess compliance with the law across the sector, and the report was published in July 2016. This led to engagement with several HE providers on compliance issues. Since then, 7 universities including Glasgow and Liverpool have given commitments, including not preventing students from graduating because of non-tuition fee debts.
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