Schools in England should continue to educate pupils for the remainder of the school year, rather than giving them an extended holiday as “study leave” for exams that were cancelled, the head of the Ofsted has said.
Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools, said it was “concerning” that secondary schools were allowing pupils on GCSE and A-level courses to end the summer term six weeks or more early, meaning that some 15 and 16-year-olds would have 100 days of holiday before the new year started in September.
Spielman said Ofsted “will want to know” how schools are using the remainder of the term to help their pupils in the exam year groups – year 11 and year 13 – catch up on learning lost during the pandemic lockdowns.
Schools usually allow students to go on study leave before their exams. This year exams for GCSEs, BTecs and A-levels have been cancelled and replaced by teacher assessment, but many schools still allowed students to leave at the end of May, after the deadline for work to be included in teacher assessments.
Spielman said in a statement to the Guardian: “The Department for Education has set clear expectations for schools to encourage year 11 and 13 pupils to continue their education during the last half of the summer term, even if the work they do doesn’t contribute towards their final grades.
“This makes sense as many pupils have struggled to learn remotely, and so haven’t got as far as they might otherwise have done. This leaves them less well-prepared for post-16 or post-18 education, so it is concerning that some pupils could be allowed to finish the term early.
“We will want to know how schools are using the remainder of the summer term for these year groups.”
The DfE’s coronavirus guidance tells school leaders that “a period of independent study leave may not be applicable” this year. The guidance suggests schools make “appropriate judgments” on activities for year 11s, including “remote provision combined with attendance in person”.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Our guidance strongly encourages all schools and colleges to maximise opportunities during the summer term to support those students to progress to the next stage of their education, training or work.”
But school leaders say the procedure to create teacher-assessed grades (Tags) used to replace A-levels and GCSEs is time-consuming and demanding, so keeping the pupils in school for longer would be impractical.
One head from a central London school said Tags had created “10 times the normal amount of work” for teachers and a “bureaucratic nightmare” of changing demands from the exam boards, leaving childcare rather than education as the only option if year 11s were to remain in school.
Other heads said they feared many students would simply refuse to attend, and efforts to make them do so would not be supported by parents.
But the parent of a year 11 student in London said she was shocked when her son finished school for the year on 21 May without any activities offered.
“I understand schools have had a terribly challenging year, but surely the government should have given this some thought after our children’s education has suffered so much,” the parent said.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said many schools were putting on extra provision. “Their ability to do this is constrained by the huge workload pressures they are having to juggle, particularly around the extremely time-consuming process of assessing students and submitting grades to the exam boards.”