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The government can’t blame the breakdown of education on the pandemic. We know exactly who’s at fault

A-level pupils in England, whose exams were cancelled due to coronavirus, will get their results on Thursday: Getty/iStock
A-level pupils in England, whose exams were cancelled due to coronavirus, will get their results on Thursday: Getty/iStock

In seeking to excuse the chaotic issuing of examination grades this summer, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said in an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, “we’ve been in a situation none of us would have expected to be in”. Surely, we have the right to expect our government to predict what is to come? On the basis of the crisis modelling that took place during the tenure of a Conservative administration, why wouldn’t the government have strategic plans drawn up to cover every likely outcome? It is not too much to expect it to have a plan that answers the following question: “In the event of a pandemic that disrupts schooling, what can be done to maintain opportunities for learning and accredit students appropriately?”

As expected, we have had no policy directives. Instead, there’s only been indecision, knee-jerk reactions and U-turns from a government that has no grip on how education works. To suggest that grading could be based on mock examinations is facile. Mocks are trial runs that give students an opportunity to learn from their mistakes; they are administered in a variety of ways by different schools and cannot, therefore, be standardised. The underlying lack of trust in the professional judgement of teachers is wounding, particularly when administered by those with little experience of teaching and learning.

The expectation that teachers will inflate results is erroneous and, if it were the case, might only be the consequence of school leaders being fearful of their standing on government-imposed league tables. All the schools and colleges that I have worked with over the past 50 years have been scrupulously fair and put the future welfare and prospects of their students first.

As ever, with this government, Williamson apologised to students “for the disruption that they’ve had to suffer” and not for the anxiety and unreliable outcomes that they will have to endure as a result of incompetence at the top.

When Williamson was thrown the education secretary job, presumably as a reward for his loyalty to the prime minister, I believe it would have been because it was assumed little harm could be done in an area in which Johnson had no interest and where nothing would be expected to happen during his premiership. How wrong they were – but then again it was impossible, apparently, for them to see what was coming.

Graham Powell
Cirencester, Gloucestershire​

A headteacher in disbelief

I’m a headteacher at a school in the UK. Gavin Williamson’s suggestion on Tuesday that relying on mocks constitutes a safety net is simply incredible. To call it a “triple lock” system was equally ludicrous. Students need vision and justice from the government, not jargon. And schools need good sense and respect from ministers, not further proof that they regard the teaching profession as amateurs without integrity.

Sarah Raffray
London

It’s not all about the graduates

In response to your leader (The record drop in UK employment could spell disaster for the graduate job market, unless action is taken, 12 August, 2020), it is not just monstrous to school leavers and graduates, but also non-graduates. How will those who have worked in “low skilled” jobs (now suddenly key workers) for just a couple of years get back into the jobs market? What about those about the age of 55 with now redundant skills? Everyone is now expendable but some, those with qualifications, have at least a chance of being employed – others, I fear, have little chance of that.

M Malczewski
Address supplied

All key workers deserve protection

Having read Vince Cable’s article on GDP yesterday, (“The GDP figures look bad now – but with coronavirus and Brexit set to prove a dangerous mix our problems aren’t over”, Voices, 12 August) and agreeing with much of it, I could not get past his statement on the reopening of schools.

“Teachers are seemingly expecting higher standards of protection than are available to other key workers”. This is clearly not the case. Scotland is already a case in hand. Here, secondary school pupils are not required to wear masks. Yet the same pupils wear face masks on public transport or when entering shops. Despite being attempted between staff and pupils, social distancing will be a huge challenge in older schools, and there is no social distancing pupil to pupil. So yes, let’s find a way of protecting all key workers. But remember, we are not doing this at the moment.

Paul Morrison
Address supplied

Donald Trump’s beautiful hair

In all of the strange stories that elections seem to provide, either as a comment about one of the candidates or to distract from comments about one of the candidates, the weirdest is the re-emergence of ones about Donald Trump’s concerns about low-pressure showers. These water-saving devices were introduced as one of many environmental initiatives that the president doesn’t seem too familiar with.

As he says, “You turn on the shower – if you’re like me, you can’t wash your beautiful hair properly”. One of the few things I share with the president is beautiful but disappearing hair and I gave up on the comb-over a long time ago. Surely, he wouldn’t need much more than a thimble of water to wash the remaining hair. Admittedly, this also shouldn’t be a great concern with the, hopefully, incoming president Joe Biden, although both VPs have decent amounts of hair.

Let’s get back to serious reporting about serious issues and leave the fun stories to cat rescues or other positive matters.

Dennis Fitzgerald
Melbourne

Face mask rage

Wearing masks in temperatures of more than 37C on a hot tube train or in general is very uncomfortable and affects breathing. I have seen aggression in other passengers when somebody dares to uncover their nose to deal with this issue. Am I the only person who finds this situation disturbing? With other strains of flu to deal with this winter, are we in for an even more fearful and aggressive society? When will it end? What effect is this hostility having on young minds? The dementors have sucked the fun out of everything just in case somebody sneezes.

Sandra Gardener
Address supplied

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