Hampshire pupils 'feeling very downbeat' as GCSE examinations loom

IN May this year, thousands of Year 11 students across Hampshire will sit down in exam halls to take their GCSEs.

Tuesday, 8th February 2022, 11:31 am
Daniel Roper, Year 11 at Priory School. Picture: David George
Daniel Roper, Year 11 at Priory School. Picture: David George

They are the first school year group since 2019 to take the exams, after teacher-assessed grades were used in 2020 and 2021.

But having spent the better part of two years in national lockdowns or with Covid-19 restrictions, many pupils fear their chances of good grades have been scuppered.

Some are further behind than others, but plenty feel that Covid-19 has set them back in their learning - with knowledge gaps from the lockdowns themselves and the curriculum cramming they have done to try and catch up.

Romina Abbasi, left, with Daniel Roper, both Year 11 at Priory School in Southsea. Picture: David George

The News has spoken to Year 11s from three schools in Hampshire, to find out how the pandemic has affected them and their education.

At Park Community School in Leigh Park, pupils say they and their friends are feeling 'generally very downbeat' about their exams.

Jake Hunter, 16, said: 'Because of the lockdowns I think we missed out quite a lot - we're certainly not as ready as we could be, or as previous years have been.

'We're all cramming in as much revision as we can, but none of us are feeling confident at the moment.'

Jake Hunter, Year 11 at Park Community School. Picture: David George

Ariel Lusala, 15, added: ‘It's been a very stressful time for all of us.

'The teachers have been great - we all have extra lessons on our timetables and everyone is working really hard to catch up, but I don't think we're going to get the results we want or deserve.'

During the lockdowns, 15-year-old A'layah Parris was one of those who was in school rather than learning from home.

She preferred the one-to-one treatment enjoyed during the lockdowns, but added that her friends struggled during that time.

Romina Abbasi, left, with Daniel Roper, both Year 11 at Priory School in Southsea (left) and A'layah Parris, Ariel Lusala and Jake Hunter, all Year 11 at Park Community School in Havant (right). Picture: David George

'Everyone is generally feeling very downbeat about the exams,' she said.

This feeling has been echoed in other schools across the county - and many students feel the exams may put them in an unfavourable position.

Schools have gone into overdrive to catch students up with the curriculum and exam boards have dropped certain topics from exams - for example, there will be no Cold War questions in this year's history tests.

But after the past two year groups received teacher assessed grades, this year's cohort believes their results will not match up to their predecessors.

Ariel Lusala, Year 11 at Park Community School. Picture: David George

This in turn could torpedo future job prospects and life opportunities, they say.

Daniel Roper, 16 from Priory School in Southsea, said: 'The exam boards have already cut some parts of the curriculum, but I think it should go further than that.

'We are the year group that has faced the most disruption to our education, but in a few months we'll be sitting exams where the results can have a huge effect on our lives.

'These grades won't be a true reflection, and I've even seen potential employers on social media talking about how they can't trust the grades students get this year.

'For us I think it should be a hybrid of exams and teacher assessed grades, because that would give us something to fall back on.'

Romina Abbasi, 15, added: 'Generally speaking I don't believe exams accurately define whether or not a student is good at a subject.

From left, A'layah Parris, Ariel Lusala and Jake Hunter, all Year 11 at Park Community School in Havant. Picture: David George

'Because our learning was so heavily disrupted, people are more likely to get a bad grade - which could be the difference in getting the college course they want.

'There needs to be a development of the GCSE format because they can do students an injustice with their final grade. Our teachers know us better, they know our strengths and weaknesses and so their grades would be much more accurate.'

At the tail-end of last year, medical experts at the Hampshire, Southampton and Isle of Wight CCG suggested that roughly 17.4 per cent of all youngsters have a probable mental health disorder.

Ciara Rogers, senior operational lead at Hampshire, Southampton and Isle of Wight CCG, warned that the Covid-19 pandemic has played a critical role in the decline in youth mental health.

Students certainly seem to agree that the lockdowns took a toll on them mentally, with some finding home learning more difficult than others.

Lillia Youngman, Year 11 at Crofton Secondary School in Stubbington, said: 'During the lockdowns I definitely had trouble with self-care; I would wake up and sit at my desk for six hours a day, plus homework and anything else I needed to catch up on.

'The only times we would get up from our desk would be to eat, wash or go to sleep - I found it impossible to switch off, to separate work and home life.'

Fellow pupil Corey Snowden added: 'Things were particularly difficult in the second lockdown I think - it was a cold, grey winter and everything was really quite miserable.

'Doing the same thing every day made all the days blend into one, and I think that played a big part in us all having gaps in our subject knowledge.'

Deanna Allen said: 'When we were learning online, we were worried about the pandemic but also found it harder to study, because in-person the teachers would get a better chance to explain things to you.

'Remote learning was really hard for a lot of us - it felt like we were missing out on a proper schooling.'

At all three schools, praise was heaped onto both teachers and school leadership teams, who are working tirelessly to get the students up to scratch.

Thomas Milham, also a Year 11 at Crofton Secondary School, said: 'When we came out of lockdown a lot of pupils were really far behind.

'Now everyone seems to be at roughly the same level, and that's really thanks to the hard work of the teachers. They have been incredible.'

Chris Anders, headteacher at Park Community School, says the work put in by students and staff has been ‘exceptional’.

However, he fears this year group could become ‘lost’ in the eyes of future employers.

He said: ‘As they look for colleges and sixth forms, those who look over the applications will take that into account.

‘My worry is that employers in five or six years time won’t necessarily remember the significance of this year group, and will instead just see lower grades than other job applicants.’

John Ainsworth, assistant headteacher at Crofton Secondary School, added: ‘We expected an awful lot of these teenagers during lockdown – we often forget that at the end of the day, these are just children.

‘They deserve a huge amount of respect for everything they have been through, and how they have remained resolute throughout.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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A'layah Parris, Year 11 at Park Community School. Picture: David George
Romina Abbasi, Year 11 at Priory School. Picture: David George