Information for University and College Admissions Teams
Covid-19 Contextual Information for University Admissions Teams –
As an inner-city secondary school with pupils who experience multiple levels of deprivation, the closure of schools had an immeasurable impact on our students who are currently in Year 13 and applying to university. The school was open for vulnerable students in Years 7 – 9 only until June 2020. Until the middle of May, all learning was self-taught using information put onto our online learning platform. Given the level of deprivation in our cohort, this meant that a sizeable proportion (over 75%) had to share laptops (if they even had them) with siblings who were also in a similar position in other year groups. 25% of our cohort did not even have access to laptops and we were unable to distribute these until the middle of May. The vast majority of our cohort live in housing that has restricted space – the combined effect of this, siblings also trying to learn remotely and a lack of access to laptops was significant.
In the middle of May, some Sixth Form lessons were delivered via Google Meet. Whilst this was a step in the right direction for our cohort, this highlighted new issues which included most notably, the patchy access to quality and reliable Wi-Fi. This is proven by the fact that no class was ever 100% attended in spite of the best efforts of the pastoral team – a lack of Wi-Fi was never addressed by local or national government.
Government guidance enabled us to offer 2 hours of onsite teaching to a handful of students from June through to July. We offered this to our students who were struggling most at home. Unfortunately, due to our community being disproportionately BAME and also inhabiting houses occupied by families of multi-generations, some of our cohort were naturally very frightened of attending this provision.
Consequently, every subject is significantly behind in teaching – where subjects are ahead of others, they are still identifying that the depth of understanding is poor. This means, that as a school, we are having to reteach the content taught in lockdown knowing that there is still a vast amount of new content still to be taught.
Our cohort are extremely vulnerable in normal circumstances. Over 65% are eligible for FSM and the vast majority of their families have never been to university. New leadership of the Sixth Form started in September 2019 and the 6 months (pre-lockdown) served to raise the aspirations of a cohort who previously would never have considered applying to university. To then enter lockdown, and be faced with the fear of missing out on their education due to an inability to access the resources they desperately needed had profound effects on their mental health. This does not even cover the bereavement the cohort saw due to the high proportion of BAME numbers in our Sixth Form and wider community. Collectively this had a huge impact on our UCAS admissions process – students were and still are, affected by the period of lockdown and rapid work has gone into re-building their confidence, self-esteem and resilience to be able to consider applying for university.
Ordinarily, we would have scheduled a robust set of exams for July 2020 in order to inform predictions for UCAS. The decision was made to allow more time to revise for these, given their significance, and these were moved to the 2nd week of this term – September 2020. It is quite extraordinary that some of our students have done as well as they have. These students navigated learning the material mostly independently from March through to July and then single-handedly revised alone during the summer holiday. We are confident, as a school, that our UCAS predictions are realistic if these students are kept in school until their exams next June 2021. Our resource will be spent supporting their mental health, trying to close the digital gap (in spite of laptops still not having arrived) and teaching content that has barely been amended ahead of the 2021 exam series.