Among the media storm of suggested methods of pupils ‘catching up’, it’s easy to lose sight of what is really important – the voice of the students themselves. BBC News family and education correspondent Sean Coughlan has been chatting with a group of sixth formers at St Wilfred’s Catholic School in Crawley, West Sussex. He discovered that whilst students were dubious about the benefits of longer days, shorter summer holidays or additional online tutoring, they were unanimously seeking some form of certainty and clarity. According to Katelan, one of the sixth formers at St Wilfrid, “It would be so beneficial for students…(who)…want to know what is happening next’.
One of the students’ primary concerns for this age group appear to be around exams, and how they will be run next year to ensure that they are fair for year groups who have missed a large amount of school – understandably students don’t want last minute changes that will disrupt their expectations.
Students have also expressed a want to be back in the classroom as much as possible, seeing their teachers and peers face to face, as opposed to behind a screen, where they miss both the social aspect and the engagement of a teaching space. According to Thomas, a year 13 student, the focus should be on quality rather than quality, with long online ‘catch up’ sessions leaving students ‘fatigued and lethargic’.
St Wilfred’s headteacher, Michael Ferry, was in agreement with the students, stating that, “It’s not just about money for education. It needs to be a co-ordinated plan that brings in health, mental health, police, social care and education.” According to Mr Ferry, the catch-up discussion must acknowledge how unbalanced the impact of the pandemic has been, having ‘widened the gap between the educational haves and have-nots’. To tackle the root cause of the divide, he therefore wants to address child poverty by ensuring that pupils come to school having had breakfast, and to address mental health by ensuring that support is more quickly available. Like his students, Mr Ferry is unconvinced that further tutoring will have a positive impact on students, as after school sports, drama and art clubs already taking place, in addition to exam revision classes undertaken during school holidays, already consume a lot of the students and staff’s time. He highlights the importance of recognise the very real risk of both staff and student burn out, and therefore asks us to acknowledge that recovery for students and staff, will need to be measured in a variety of ways.