English lockdown: return of most students further delayed

A-level exams also unlikely to go ahead as planned

January 4, 2021
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The return of more students to universities has been pushed back to “at least mid-February” under England’s new lockdown, with A-level exams also unlikely to go ahead as planned.

The new guidance represents the second revision in less than a week of plans to reopen campuses and comes in response to the rapid spread of a new, more easily transmissible form of Sars-CoV-2.

Last week ministers said that plans to stagger the return of most students from 25 January onwards were under review and pared back the list of learners eligible to receive face-to-face teaching from 4 January to those studying medicine and health-related subjects, education and social work.

“Students who do not study these courses should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least mid-February,” says the guidance, published on 4 January.

UCL, one of England’s largest universities, had earlier announced that there would be no in-person teaching on campus until 22 February at the earliest. The country’s largest higher education union, the University and College Union, has called for teaching to stay online for the whole of this term.

The guidance also orders schools and colleges to deliver remote learning for all but the children of critical workers until February half-term.

“In the circumstances, we do not think it is possible for all exams in the summer to go ahead as planned,” the guidance says. “We will accordingly be working with [exams regulator] Ofqual to consult rapidly to put in place alternative arrangements that will allow students to progress fairly.”

This comes after the cancellation of A-level exams last year led to chaos in university admissions. When results were initially published, more than 250,000 results were downgraded from teacher estimates as part of a standardisation process, but the algorithm was scrapped after it emerged that it was likely to penalise students from poorer backgrounds. This left tens of thousands of students potentially eligible for an offer for which they had previously been rejected – and with that place possibly having already been taken by another applicant.

Plans to hold A-level exams in Wales this summer were cancelled in November.

Also on 4 January, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said that Holyrood ministers would be “considering this week whether any further change is necessary” to the plan to stagger the return of students to the country’s campuses.


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