Westminster Diary: Unpicking the A-levels fiasco

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...

As pupils and students returned to education, so too was it ‘back to school’ for Parliament. First up: the Education Secretary, who had to face a barrage of questions from MPs about the full opening of schools and colleges, and qualification results - including the A-level results fiasco.

Why had guidance for schools changed at the eleventh hour, on a Friday night before a bank holiday? What extra funds would be provided to cover schools’ extra cleaning costs? Why had only half the children eligible for laptops received them?

I too asked a question: given that the A-level results algorithm clearly hit disadvantaged students hardest, would the government publish the Equality Impact Assessment that should have been conducted? As with most of these questions, the answer was not clear.

Behind MPs’ questions was the desire to find out what went wrong and to make sure it doesn’t happen again – especially if exams have to be delayed or cancelled again next year.

At the heart of this mess are young people whose lives have been made immeasurably harder, at a time when they should have been looking forward to the next stage of their lives.

Alongside A-level students, some of whom lost out on their first choice university, there are some BTEC students who are still waiting for their results, and school children with special educational needs or disabilities facing uncertainty over school places.

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In what is otherwise a deeply uncertain time, it was nice to see some familiar and heart-warming rites of passage last week: school uniform shopping trips and first-day photos. As pupils and students return to full-time education, they, their parents and guardians and teachers are understandably filled with anxiety and excitement, and in some cases, a huge sense of relief.

Whilst some MPs continue to help student-constituents and their families who are still affected by the fall-out, the whole debacle raises big questions about the future of education during this global pandemic. In the coming weeks and months, MPs will have to grapple with how to keep schools open, how to maintain high learning standards for all during home-schooling, digital poverty and vitally the mental health and well-being of our young people.