ITV News political correspondent Libby Wiener spoke to pupils about exams, school closures and free school meals
Just two weeks ago, Boris Johnson broadcast to the nation that there was nothing to fear when dropping off your child at the school gates. Schools were safe, he said, and would remain open.
The next day, the Prime Minister was in front of the TV cameras again. This time, not to reassure the nation, but to announce the UK’s third national lockdown amid spiralling Covid rates.
Schools were now “vectors of transmission” and must close. Chaos followed as the education of thousands of teenagers was thrown into disarray yet again.
A-Level and GCSE exams were scrapped in place of teacher-assessed grades, but schools themselves would decide if January’s BTEC exams should go ahead.
Some pupils reported turning up for an exam, only to discover at the school gates it had been cancelled.
To make matters worse, the government’s controversial record over free school meals was on the front pages again.
When pictures emerged online of seemingly pitiful food provisions handed to vulnerable families, many were outraged.
Among them was Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford, whose campaign to end child poverty was re-energised and criticism of the government renewed.
This week, ITV News’ political correspondent Libby Wiener convened a panel of pupils from across the UK to discuss a tumultuous period for education.
The debate covered topics such as the cancellation of summer exams, free school meals, and vaccinating teachers.
All the students called for some clarity over summer assessments, with the Education Secretary writing to Ofqual this week suggesting there will some sort of external exams.
Year 11 pupil Joshua Lee said: “It’s all bizarre. We don’t know what’s going to happen. First we were told that GCSEs and A-Levels were to be cancelled and we’d move to teacher assessed grades.
“For them now to suddenly go, there might be an external exam, it throws everything out the window.”
A-Level student Isobel Forbes, from Sheffield, added: “I agree that exams should be cancelled. In the circumstances we find ourselves in this year, and with Scotland and Wales cancelling theirs, it brings us onto a level playing field.”
Mr Williamson appeared before the Education Select Committee on Wednesday, where he pledged to try to reopen schools as quickly as possible.
There have been calls for teachers to move up the priority list for a Covid vaccine after vulnerable adults, an idea backed by the Education Secretary.
But student Joshua Beckett said he wouldn’t feel comfortable returning unless pupils were also protected against the virus.
He said: “It’s one thing vaccinating the teachers, but it’s another thing vaccinating everyone. For me, until every single person in that classroom in close vicinity has been vaccinated in some way, shape or form I wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking to them.”
On Friday, Marcus Rashford stepped up his campaign over free school meals in England with a call for an urgent review of the government’s policy in the wake of the pandemic.
The England striker has joined with TV chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge, and the actress Dame Emma Thompson to press ministers to develop a strategy which could help end child food poverty.
A-Level student Tyra Simpson said; “When I saw the images I was appalled, and I feel a lot people in the country were as well.
“I do think that obviously it’s not an efficient amount (of food) at all, and Gavin Williamson’s seen it for himself, which I think he should have done before he signed anything off.”
The Department for Education guidance says schools do not need to provide parcels or vouchers during the break as families eligible for free school meals will be supported through the Government’s Covid Winter Grant Scheme.