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Pupils celebrate GCSE results after ‘really tough’ year in England

UK schools updates

Matthew Griffin and his mother Nicole were among the first through the doors of Salford City Academy, in north-west England, on Thursday morning to collect his GCSE results.

Upon opening them, their worry swiftly turned to joy. “He’s done so well after all they have been through,” said Nicole. “He didn’t miss an online class.”

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing more than a million pupils to stay at home, he was among those who got one-to-one tutoring in maths and English to ensure he did not miss out. Rather than a technical diploma at college, Matthew is now considering moving on to A-levels.

Matthew Griffin with his mother Nicole: ‘He’s done so well after all they have been through’ © Jon Super/FT

“The school has been really helpful,” he said.

Mel Haselden, school principal, told the Financial Times: “This is a day to celebrate . . . It has been really tough for these students.”

Pupils in the North West have been disproportionately impacted by education loss over the course of the pandemic. Children there missed more days of school than those in the South East, further widening the existing attainment gap between different regions.

Melanie Haselden: ‘When the year 11s did mocks we had 40 out of 131 self-isolating’ © Jon Super/FT

“When the year 11s did mocks we had 40 out of 131 self-isolating,” said Haselden.

To mitigate the disruption, Salford City Academy, part of United Learning, a trust, handed out 600 Chromebook computers with internet access dongles, and paid staff to do evening tutoring.

The decline of the docks and industry during the 1970s and 80s has left deep scars in the city. Half the schools’ intake qualify for extra funding for disadvantage and 15 per cent have special educational needs.

But the attainment levels at the school have been rising. The percentage of students to gain five passes in their GCSEs, including English and maths, rose to 40 per cent, from 32 per cent last year.

Kaitlyn Man moved from Hong Kong two years ago because her parents wanted her to experience a different education system. She gained nine top grades and is off to study sciences. “It was challenging doing lab work watching videos but the teachers have been really good,” she said.

Haselden backs the reintroduction of exams next year. “You need an external assessment,” she said.

However, she added that students who have suffered two years of disruption should not have to learn the entire curriculum, but instead be told which areas will be tested and concentrate on those.

United Learning includes some fee-paying schools. Haselden said they had an advantage by having smaller classes and better technology.

Bar chart of Percentage point difference from 2019 GCSE results showing The biggest increase in top grades has been in London and the south

While the route to A-levels and university remained popular, some students were wrestling with the apprentice system. Harry Burgess, 16, had secured a civil engineering apprenticeship at the company his father worked for.

Aaron Croft, also 16, wants to be an apprentice joiner but was told he was too young and would have to go to college first.

Harry Burgess secured a civil engineering apprenticeship © Jon Super/FT

As for the government’s new T-levels, designed for those who want to do technical skills, only two people out of 131 were considering taking them.

Sinnead Elwood, the school’s careers adviser, said the system could be confusing.

“You have to keep looking for vacancies in different places. It can be time consuming.”

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