How will you be spending your next birthday? Tucking into cake, sipping a glass of Prosecco and maybe even catching the sun rays on a beach?
I was due to celebrate my big day this August with my first proper holiday since 2019. It had already been booked a year in advance (ever hopeful the worst of the pandemic would be behind us).
Then came last week’s announcement about the arrangements for awarding GCSEs and A-levels. Students are now due to get their results two weeks earlier than normal.
Bang slap in the middle of my break, which I’m now having to hastily rearrange. And yes, I’ll be pulling a 12-hour shift on my birthday as I prepare StokeonTrentLive’s A-level results coverage.
OK, you can stop playing the violins. I’ve had my rant.
It’s indicative of how the pandemic has affected every facet of our lives. We’ve all missed out on so much and it will be months before any real normality returns.
The flurry of education announcements over the last few days has brought a little more certainty for pupils, parents and teachers. But lots of questions still remain unanswered.
The first red letter day on the calendar is March 8, when children will start going back to school.
But secondary and college students will almost inevitably have to stagger their return over several days as they need to undergo lateral flow tests before being allowed back in the classroom.
In the first fortnight, they will have four coronavirus tests – three in school and one at home. It sounds like a logistical nightmare.
Then we have the plans to help schoolchildren recover from learning loss after months of remote education.
The Government is adding an extra £405 million to its catch-up pot, bringing the total to £1.7 billion. But it’s only when you look at the finer details that you realise the latest money will be spread thinly.
Take the ‘recovery premium’ – a one-off amount to help pupils ‘who need it most’. Ministers are keen to see it spent on summer provision, such as clubs and activities, or on support for disadvantaged children from September.
But it works out at a hardly world-shattering £6,000 for the average primary school and £22,000 for a secondary school.
Then there’s cash for summer schools, more investment in one-to-one or small group tutoring, and funds for language development in the early years.
Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green claimed the package equates to an extra 43p a day per pupil.
I suspect the funding is only one tranche of a long-term commitment to supporting catch-up work.
Then the A-level and GCSE grand plan was unveiled, which confirmed grades are to be based on teacher assessments after formal exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.
There’s been quite a bit of grumbling about the impact this will have on grade inflation. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been so squeamishly avoiding a repeat of last year’s ‘results by algorithm’ debacle that he’s handed rather too much responsibility to schools.
I would have preferred to see the plan for mini-exam papers – with teachers selecting and marking questions set by exam boards – made compulsory rather than optional for schools. At least it would have provided more consistency in how they assessed students’ abilities.
But while schools have been bombarded with Government announcements, there’s been one glaring omission. Ministers have failed to properly address the needs of university students.
Although some students on practical courses can resume face-to-face teaching on March 8, most don’t have a campus return date.
Many of those renting university-owned accommodation have received rent rebates for rooms they can’t use during lockdown. But despite the Government upping its hardship funds – and local universities doing a sterling job in offering support – students are still being charged £9,250-a-year in tuition fees.
Given they are getting a suboptimal university experience during the pandemic, that’s a scandalous amount.