Amidst the chaos of the government using algorithms to work out exam grades – before backtracking so students can use teachers’ grades to secure university places – home-educated children have been left to flounder.
There are at least 60,000 children being taught at home and many will have been affected by the pandemic, which made it impossible to sit GCSEs and A levels this year.
Some were retaking exams privately, others studied subjects unavailable at school and others are gifted or have additional needs.
But this cohort has no way of proving what standard they are capable of attaining, which means their hopes of getting into university this autumn have gone up in smoke.
Usman Rana, director of online tuition firm, Ucademy, says: “Our A-level and GCSE homeschooling students have been going through an exceptionally challenging time. This was meant to be a time of hope and empowerment, where the hard work pays off. Instead it has left many disenchanted from the British education system.”
The cancellation of exams, he adds, immediately raised the problem of how students could meet college and university offers that depended upon exam results.
“The solution proposed for school students completely alienated private entry students who had no relationship with an examination centre,” Rana says. “Private entry students aspiring for medicine or dentistry had also been through the stress of separate admissions’ tests and rigorous interview procedures, which all suddenly appeared to have been for nothing.
“This has been an incredibly distressing situation for private students – they have had no support from the government, been placed second to school attending students, and still are left uncertain of the direction their future will take.”
One pupil, who asked to remain anonymous, says: “Students like me have been completely neglected. I know this is also happening to other prospective medical students in a gap year, with no choice but to take a second gap year. In the grand scheme of things, I know it might not be a big deal, but we’ve been through the application process for universities twice already, which has been really mentally draining.
“And … it’s had a huge impact on my mental health. [I’ve] developed a lot of anxiety, especially on top of lockdown, which really didn’t help. I’ve had panic attacks because of this; disruption in sleep, impact on physical health.”
Zoe Hughes, who runs Betwixt Holistic Tutoring, agrees that the impact of the way exams have been dealt with has been devastating for the home educated.
“The largest majority of my clients are home educating not through lifestyle choice but through desperate necessity,” she says. “These aren’t families wanting to indoctrinate their children or get cheap holidays, these are families who have either exceptionally gifted children or families whose children are ASC, ADHD or who have medical needs that make school attendance difficult.
“Our education system is prejudiced against some of the most marginalised in society and for these families to then be further marginalised in this way is just showing the damage a privileged few can cause, through sheer ignorance of the issues facing the average special needs family or family with gifted children who can not afford Eton fees.”
Joanna Merrett, researcher, Centre for Social Mobility, University of Exeter, echoes this. She says the financial pressures on the parents of home-educated children are “outrageous”.
“This community of parents has been talking about exam poverty for several reasons,” Merrett says. “Many have received a partial, or no refund, for cancelled exams. And parents will have to pay for resits at alternative exam centres – the arrangements in autumn incur extra costs, in some cases quite significant costs, with parents quoted between £400-£650 per subject.”
Aside from the cost issues, many young people have had their conditional offers for their next step in education – college, university or apprenticeship – withdrawn because they couldn’t sit their exams and they don’t do mocks.
“Typically, home educated children do not sit mock exams,” says Hughes. “This is in part because of the cost involved. For many, the main exam is the first and only grade they expect to get. This means they do not have a history of teacher-marked work – they self study at home. This leaves the majority of home-educated children without any grade at all.”
A spokesperson for Ofqual responded: “We confirmed earlier this summer that private candidates would only be able to receive a result where the Head of Centre, where they were due to take their exams, was confident their staff had seen sufficient evidence of the student’s achievement to submit a centre assessment grade and include them in the centre’s rank order.
“We also worked with exam boards to create alternative options for private candidates whose original centre may have decided a centre assessment grade could not be submitted, subsequently allowing candidates to consider transferring from one centre to another.”
Where this was not possible, she added, private students would be able to sit exams this autumn.
But for those affected, this isn’t good enough: “It feels like the government did something for them,” says one, “the students in schools, but nothing for us. I’ve just felt like we’ve been left out completely.
“It’s been so much harder in my position because I’ve gone through A-levels once, and the whole admissions process. I just went through all of it again, and during a global pandemic. It’s been a very long process, I want it over and done with.”