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Gavin Williamson Accused Of Downplaying His Pledge For A Level Students To Repeat A Year Amid Covid Disruption

4 min read

Students receiving their A-level results next week can request to repeat the school year if they feel they were adversely affected by Covid-19, an opportunity critics say has barely been advertised by the Department for Education.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to all MPs on June 8 to say that providers of 16-19 year old education will have the option of offering students in year 13 or equivalent the opportunity to "repeat up to one more year if they have been particularly severely affected by the pandemic". 

However with just days to go until thousands of students pick up their results on August 10, the Liberal Democrats are calling on the department to set up a significant promotional campaign that reaches all teenagers so they are aware of their options. Earlier this year the party campaigned for students to have the chance to repeat the year, calling it their School Leavers Second Time scheme. 

Education spokesperson for the party, Daisy Cooper MP, said: “If the government can spend billions of pounds on dodgy PPE contracts they can urgently pull together and fund a promotion programme for the School Leavers Second Time scheme. 

“Many school leavers are incredibly anxious about receiving their exams results and after a horrible year, they will be desperate to move on with the next stage of their lives.

"But if they open their results next Tuesday and see that the pandemic has had a direct and severe impact on their learning, they have the right to know that they have an insurance policy – namely, the option of sitting the year again for a second time if they choose to do so.

“If the government fails to put the cash and resources behind this scheme they are laying the foundations for yet another failure of a generation."  

The Lib Dems said lockdowns, homeschooling, bubbles, and missed learning and months isolated from their peers made for an incredibly difficult academic year and the fact pupils are entitled to re-sit exams if they need to, must be made much clearer by Williamson. 

It emerged last month that schools that want more than five percent of their students to repeat a year before the start of term must get authorisation from the Education and Skills Funding Agency by August 13. There will then be another opportunity, by October 29, for providers to inform the DfE they will be exceeding the threshold.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has previously said it was not sensible to set quotas in Wesminster adding: “It does seem slightly arbitrary for the government to suggest that this option will not be needed for more than 5 per cent of students”.

The DfE has said that for the “vast majority of students” they do not think they a repeat of the year will be needed. The department stressed that they are likely to find it “more appropriate to progress to another course or programme, higher education or the labour market, rather than repeating up to a year."

On the fact schools have just three days to apply for permission from the ESFA if a lot of their pupils need to re-sit, Cooper said: "The government should let pupils repeat the year if they wish – no ifs, no buts and certainly no disingenuous time constraints on the offer."

A DfE spokesperson said: “As part of our £3 billion long-term education recovery plan, 16-19 education providers will be able to offer year 13 students the option to repeat the year if they have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic.

“We expect that the majority of students receiving their results next week will be able to progress, and will not need to repeat a year. However, it is for providers, in discussion with students, parents or carers,  to assess who would benefit from this option the most.

“We are continuing to work closely with providers to make sure any students who may need to repeat a year are supported to do so.”

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