Results Days are invariably moments of great anticipation and trepidation. Nerves about what will be contained in the long-awaited envelope. Relief if results have gone the way you hope; a mad dash through insurance choices if they have not. Excitement about what the future will bring. Hasty preparations for an evening of celebration or commiserations..! They are always a maelstrom of emotions and never fail to take me back to my own GCSE and A-Level results. I would like to congratulate everyone who got their results last week and my thanks go to all of our incredible, hard-working local teachers who have done a sterling job in the most difficult of circumstances.
This year, students have been put under utterly needless additional pressure as the Government managed to turn a challenge into all-out chaos. Instead of relying on the experience and expertise of teachers, assessment results were subject to a ‘standardisation’ process, one that downgraded 40% of marks. A system that reduces the grades of 2 in 5 students – disproportionately hitting schools and colleges in the most deprived communities – was simply not fit for purpose. Many students in Barnsley their futures were left hanging in the balance by a deeply flawed computer algorithm that judged them not on their hard work or academic performance, but on their postcode and the past attainment of their school. Whilst I welcome the fact that the Government performed a screeching U-turn – after an almighty outcry from students, schools and the Labour frontbench – it remains the case that students who have worked incredibly hard were badly let down last week.
The Coronavirus pandemic has had such a profound effect on everyday life, especially for those students who collected their results this month. It has meant a shift to studying from home. It has meant being apart from friends and teachers – at the most important and formative stage of their academic careers. For those who plan to start studying at university in September, it means that the typical ‘uni experience’ of freshers’ weeks, lectures and seminars, meeting new people and experiencing broader horizons will be changed as universities look to move towards remote learning. My heart really does go out to those who are moving on to the next stage of their academic career, or who are entering the world of work or further training, at a time of such economic uncertainty.
I do, however, have confidence that this year’s cohort of school and college leavers have had the best possible preparation given the challenges they have faced adjusting to remote learning. Students from the lowest income families and the most deprived backgrounds have been hit hard by a ‘digital divide’ of a lack of a decent, reliable internet connection or access to laptops and computers. I’ve been taking practical steps, in partnership with Barnsley Council, local schools, education trade unions and third sector organisations to close the digital divide and ensure that every student is able to get online to study and revise. I’ve always said that where you grow up should not determine where you end up – and throughout this period of crisis I have been taking practical steps to ensure that is truly the case for pupils here in Barnsley.
Finally, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to everyone who got their results and wish them all the very best for whatever you decide to do next. Enjoy the celebrations and whatever the future holds – you’ve earned it!
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28 August 2020.