Brighton headteacher’s delight at GCSE results for pupils ‘most affected’ by pandemic

Shelley Baker, head of Varndean School, said pupils had performed “on par” with the last few years. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A Brighton headteacher has expressed her delight at the GCSE results of the year group “most affected” by the Covid pandemic.

Shelley Baker, head of Varndean School, said despite national “doom and gloom” with general results down in some areas, she found pupils had performed “on par” with the last few years.

Ms Baker said one of the big challenges was getting pupil attendance back up since Covid.

She said: “My duty is to get students back into school, we know when they are here they’re going to do well.”

But she added it is a balancing act on how to push pupils while recognising the impact on mental health and their needs as waiting lists are “years long”.

One Varndean student, Fi Abou-Chanab, has been among those campaigning for more mental health support for students in all schools across Brighton and Hove.

Working with Citizens UK, the campaign secured pledges for funding from Labour and Green councillors in the local elections to help staff schools with more support.

The 16-year-old was inspired to get involved by her own mental health experiences just before Covid began, which meant she felt “forgotten” as everyone became “stuck at home” and couldn’t do anything to help.

Ruben Murphy, 16, after collecting his GCSE results at Varndean School in Brighton Credit: Anahita Hossein-Pour/PA

“There was a period of time when a lot of people around me were struggling … I really wanted to make a change,” she said.

On her own GCSE results she was “feeling quite happy” with her 9s, 8, 7s and one B in AS-level additional maths.

While she found it hard coming back to exams after being at home for so long, she added: “Once we did three sets of mocks, and once we had done the ones in January, I felt completely ready which was really helpful.”

Meanwhile, Ruben Murphy, 16, said he finally decided to “knuckle down” only when the exams started and he pushed through the period.

Although happy with his results of 5s, 6s and 4s which means he will get into college, he expressed how hard attending school remotely through the pandemic was and he “probably would have done better” otherwise.

“I just didn’t really do any of it, two years of not really doing any schoolwork. It’s just having to wake up just to get on a Zoom call,” he said.

But in advice to others, he said: “Just knuckle down and get your GCSEs.

“I’ve never really been the most academic type of person but it does feel good when you put in the work, you get your results and you have done it.

"It feels good.”

Ben Sassons, 16, with his results at Varndean School in Brighton Credit: Annahita Hossein-Pour/PA

For Ben Sassons, 16, who achieved seven 9s, two 8s, a 7 and a 6 for his GCSEs, he felt the pandemic affected other people at school worse than himself as he can work “quite well” on his own at home.

But he also praised the “brilliant” teacher support for when students returned to school.

He said: “Obviously (it was) stressful and difficult but in the end it worked out.”

But he did feel he may have “missed out” on other aspects of school life such as his enjoyment of joining orchestra and other clubs he discovered after the pandemic.

“At college I want to do as much as I can do, I know I enjoy it now. I didn’t realise that earlier,” he said.

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