Pupils missed a third of learning time in pandemic - but grades still being moderated
Pupils missed more than half of normal classroom time and lost out on a third of their learning overall during the pandemic it has been revealed, as a majority of Scottish councils confirmed that grades for senior pupils will be moderated based on historical passes data.
New research has found that Scottish – and Northern Irish – pupils missed 119 classroom days from a 190-day school year, less than the 124 days missed in Wales, but higher than the 110 days in England.
When home schooling is taken into account, they still lost a third of the normal leaning time, with 64 days lost in Scotland, compared with 61 in England and Northern Ireland, while in Wales it was 66.
The analysis from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Exeter, also shows that in each of the four nations of the UK, poorest pupils lost more learning time than their richer peers.
The new data comes as the results of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, published by the Scottish Government, reveals that despite pledges there would be no moderation of teacher-awarded grades for pupils sitting assessments, the majority of Scottish councils are using managers to “sense-check” the results.
Formal exams were scrapped in December as a result of schools being closed for the second time as Covid cases rose, and the Scottish Government said grades would be based on teacher judgement.
This was then replaced by an alternative certification model (ACM) which required demonstrated achievement, and as a result senior pupils sat a series of assessments in April and May.
Despite a pledge that there would be no repeat of the moderation of last year’s results, which was carried out by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and saw schools in the most deprived areas receive the worst results, the FOI responses show that councils have been moderating the grades themselves.
Twenty eight of Scotland’s 32 councils answered the FOI asking for details of the quality assurance process in use by each local authority.
In Edinburgh, headteachers were issued with “data packs showing four-year school assessment trends and patterns for every subject” and encouraged to test the teachers’ grades against Insight, an online benchmarking tool for secondary schools and local authorities, while in Glasgow, teachers were told to " sense check” their provisional results “to ensure there is a clear understanding and rationale where patterns of attainment differ substantially from previous cohorts.”
Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said that while it had been right to prevent the spread of Covid by “switching to home working and schooling” there was a failure to prepare for the impact of lost learning on pupils – which could have long term consequences on how they fared in assessments.
"The real failure here was on the part of the SQA, who did not prepare for the consequences of prolonged school closures, despite the near-certainty that they would occur,” he said.
Scottish Conservative education spokesman, Oliver Mundell, said the report showed an “inexcusable amount of lost learning time.”
He added: “SNP ministers must face reality and stop trying to paint a rosy picture of remote learning that is far from the truth. In reality, they failed to give students the remote learning support they needed.
“We are looking at a carbon copy of last year's shambles, it's just more 'sleekit'.
"When comparing the multitude of ways to grading exams presented by councils, it is clear that the SNP's approach has resulted in greater discrepancies in the system than ever before. This is blatantly unfair to students and must be addressed.”
The report into learning time lost published by the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) shows most school children in the UK missed more than half of their expected days in the classroom between March 2020 and April 2021.
LSE professor Stephen Machin, CEP director and co-author of the report, said: "Even a few days extra learning loss can have a large impact on educational achievement and life outcomes, and these are big losses of around 60-65 days.
“Learning losses suffered during the pandemic are manifested in stark gaps in attainment between children from poorer backgrounds and their more privileged counterparts, which is likely to cause a significant decline in social mobility for younger generations.”
The report also found that 53 per cent of 10,000 adults surveyed across the UK support extending the school day to make up for learning losses – with the number being 52 per cent in Scotland. Support for a repeat year stands at 68 per cent in Scotland, the same as in England.
Andrew Eyles, CEP research economist, said: "Rapidly rising absences in schools in June 2021 once again prompt discussion about potential policies that could address the learning loss suffered during the pandemic.
"Our survey responses show there is significant public support for two major policies - extending the school day; and allowing pupils to repeat a whole school year.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Young people and their teachers have shown extraordinary resilience and coped admirably during the difficult circumstances of the pandemic, and we are determined to continue to do everything we can to minimise the disruption to their education
“We have committed almost £400 million in education recovery funding over the course of 2020/21 and 2021/22. The majority of this is supporting a range of work to accelerate learning recovery and support children and young people’s health and wellbeing, including the provision of additional teachers and staff to support those who need it most; devices and connectivity to lift children and young people out of digital exclusion as quickly as possible; and targeted youth work services.”
On the assessments, the spokesperson said: “Local authorities have supported schools to implement this year’s alternative certification model flexibly to reflect their own local context whilst working within the national framework.
“The SQA provided secure assessment materials to help teachers and lecturers gather evidence for provisional results, and unlike with exams, schools have the flexibility to decide how and when to use them, to adapt them, or to use their own assessments.
“Learners who remain unhappy with their results can register an appeal directly with the SQA.”
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