Westminster Diary: Public petitions can help shape policy

Daisy Cooper. Picture: St Albans Cathedral

Daisy Cooper. Picture: St Albans Cathedral - Credit: Archant

St Albans MP Daisy Cooper offers her take on a week in Westminster...

One of the important elements about Parliament is that any member of the public can get the attention of MPs by starting a petition. If more than 100,000 people sign it, it’s considered for debate.

That was the case this week as I took part in a debate on how to run GCSEs and A-levels next year following two petitions that had achieved nearly 150,000 signatures each.

In light of the A-level results scandal this year, one called for a review of how student grades are calculated if exams are cancelled again. In light of continuing disruption to teaching because of coronavirus, the other petition called for curriculum content to be reduced for Years 10 and 12 students who sit exams in 2021.

A few hours before the debate, the Government made an important announcement. It said that exams would be pushed back by three weeks, but in case of any exam disruption, mock exam results would be used as a plan B.

In the debate, I highlighted a contradiction in the announcement : if ‘plan A’ moves exams back three weeks to allow more time for teaching, why does ‘plan B’ effectively bring them forward by several months by using results from as early as November?

With so much continuing disruption to education, I agreed with those who signed the petition that the curriculum content should be reduced for Years 10 and 12 students. But I went further, and called on the Government to give a firm commitment that no student will be tested on any subject that they have not been taught.

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I also used the opportunity to highlight the broader issues facing schools. Some schools around the UK are warning that they may grind to a halt without access to Covid tests, and without quick turnaround times for results. Many still do not have the resources and funding that they need to provide education to those students who have to self-isolate.

Some MPs tried once again to put the blame onto the exams regulator Ofqual. I reminded them that Ofqual was not on the ballot paper last year. Students, parents, teachers – and those who set up these very successful petitions – are looking to the Government to make sure that students do not face further fiascos.