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GCSE Results Day: Celebrating the successes despite the disruption

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The GCSE results are in. Over five million young candidates across the country who took their GCSE exams can now find out the outcome and possible options for moving to the next stage of their lives.

Getting to this point has certainly not been easy. In the last few years, young people and their schools have braved the storms of uncertainty and adapted to unprecedented challenges. We should not only acknowledge their academic achievements but also loudly applaud their unwavering determination and spirit through some very difficult years. 

The stark reality

The Covid-19 pandemic was the biggest disruption to education in history. Three years on, it still casts an unforeseen shadow over the academic landscape, creating an aura of uncertainty for GCSE candidates.

Facing multiple school closures spanning months, the struggle of catching up with remote learning (and indeed, the inequality of access to remote learning), changing examination formats, and declining mental health, these candidates have demonstrated adaptability and had to forge ahead through extremely choppy waters. 

Whilst we don’t yet fully know how this year’s GCSE results will break down specifically for disadvantaged pupils, we do know that last year the attainment gap was at its widest in over a decade. A few years ago, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) published research highlighting that on the trajectory at the time, it would take 500 years to close the attainment gap. More recently, the EPI has warned that at the current trajectory, it will never close.

That cannot be a state we’re happy to sit back and accept for the young lives currently coming through the education system: it has serious consequences for their future life chances and is damaging to society as a whole. 

We know that a key contributing factor to the disparity recorded in attainment between the different socioeconomic groups of pupils is the access to learning support and resources. The results these pupils will receive today are not simply a reflection of their ability but also a reflection of the challenging circumstances they are grappling with – less access to the same levels of support and opportunities as their peers.  All of these issues were of course exacerbated during Covid, with the government’s flagship plan to address the gap – the National Tutoring Programme. 

The power of tutoring

As the leader of a charity that has provided tutoring support for young people facing disadvantage for over ten years, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m biased towards tutoring. But I have every reason to be – tutoring is a tangible and effective intervention, yielding significant academic improvements for pupils beyond regular school lessons. Small group tutoring has been found to contribute an average of five months of academic progress to a child’s education, according to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) – one of the key pieces of evidence that led to the government introducing the National Tutoring Programme to try and mitigate the covid damage. 

Despite still being a big believer in the value of tutoring, I would be the first to say that I’ve had many frustrations with the implementation of the National Tutoring Programme over the last three years and still do: not least that it has lost its focus on supporting those facing disadvantage, group sizes have been increased beyond the evidence base, the administration has been complicated and in the context of extremely challenging school budgets it’s been hard to be sure the NTP is really providing additional support. 

But I’m certainly not giving up on the potential that exists for those facing disadvantage to benefit hugely from tutoring. A recent report by Public First, The Future of Tutoring, has shown that tutoring has spillover effects beyond academic performance, including increasing confidence, driving attendance, and improving the mental health of pupils. For many pupils, it’s bringing the joy back into learning; “I enjoy that our tutors teach us through games, learning and having fun” says a year 5 pupil on an Action Tutoring programme. C

Teachers in schools with higher levels of deprivation were more likely to report the impact tutoring could have. Furthermore, the report revealed that parents are in full support of tutoring too. 81 percent of parents polled said tutoring should be available to every child in state school or college and 73% said this should be focused on those from low-income backgrounds. 

Levelling the playing field

For the NTP to embed longer term, funding is a key issue. Results of the teacher polling in the Public First report highlighted clearly that without continued ring-fenced funding for tutoring, uptake would seriously diminish. Yet with the damaging effects of Covid far from over, now is not the time to reduce the support available for those who need it. 

That’s why the Public First report calls for a ‘Tutoring Guarantee’ – a commitment for all pupils eligible for the pupil premium who are behind in English or maths to be offered a course of high-quality tutoring. This would benefit approximately 1.75m disadvantaged pupils per year. With those crucial English and maths qualifications in their pockets, the doors open for these young people will be significantly widened. The benefits of that on their lives as well as wider society cannot be underestimated. 

To the GCSE candidates and teachers: your achievements are a testament to your spirit and perseverance during this unprecedented period. Congratulations on this milestone!

Written by:

By Susannah Hardyman, CEO and founder of Action Tutoring

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