It’s still a bit of a mess

By seeking and blundering we learn.

The Summer of 2020 will probably be remembered as the quiet before the storm. The Summer where we all decamped to the beach to bask in the hot weather, courtesy of climate change. The Summer that the postponed Olympic Games meant that sports like velodrome cycling and 400m sprinting, were replaced by finding a loo and a rubbish bin that wasn’t over-flowing – Because Covid having decreed that everything be shut. 2020 was the year where in the Summer, you could eat out for half price, but by the Autumn get fined for taking a cup of tea with you on a walk.

It was the year that the Department of Education decided that a computer algorithm could decide the fate of students taking exams, only to backtrack when it appeared that the ‘computer says no’ excuse was not going to hold water.

How many of us now think about stuff we did ‘last year’ only to realise that the last year we are talking about was, in fact 2019? Most of the company reports I’m now seeing are comparing quarters in 2021 with 2019 because to do otherwise makes no sense.

The same could be said for A Levels and GCSEs, results of which are coming out this week and next week. You cannot compare  grades from 2020 with 2019 because they weren’t generated under the same circumstances. You can’t really compare this year’s with last year’s either because circumstances were different. Similar, butt different. And I very much doubt whether you will be able to compare the results that will be generated in 2022 and 2023 with those of the year, last year or 2019 and preceding years. I have  vested interest in this, of course, having seen at first hand the complete dog’s dinner that the Department of Education made of children’s education in the first part of 2020 and the first part of 2021. With children who will be taking GCSEs in 2023, I worry that, in the rush to get back to ‘normal’, they and their cohorts in the preceding year will be the ones that get forgotten about.  Employers, colleges and admissions tutors in 2025 may well look at anyone who took exams in 2020 or 2021 as ‘the pandemic generation’, but forget how hard hit were the students in every single year. And don’t get me started on the number of universities who seem to be stating firmly that online lessons will continue for their students. As will tuition fees at £9k a year.

The upside of this, if we look hard enough for it, might be that more young people – and, equally important, their parents – might start to look at alternatives to formal further education. Alternatives such as apprenticeships and on-the-job training. With skills shortages still as acute as ever, now could be the time to really implement a proper, decent policy of funding and encouraging youngsters into apprenticeships in the construction sector, including merchanting. Just don’t let the Department of Education anywhere near it, they’ll just mess it up.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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