For children across the country, this year has been a tale of two lockdowns.
While some enjoyed virtual lessons and round-the-clock home-schooling, for millions of others, lockdown has meant a deepening of existing issues.
Many of those without access to the right technology have simply had to go without.
More still have had schooling interrupted as Covid cases began to rise in schools, forcing them to self-isolate at home.
It’s now clear that it is Northern children who are disproportionately affected by this rising tide of issues – existing disadvantage, digital divide and now further school closures.
According to Department of Education figures published a couple of weeks ago, some parts of the North had attendance rates for secondary school as low as 61%, whereas others in the South were near to the usual national figure of 95%.
Worryingly, attendance is down across many of the so-called ‘left-behind’ areas – where high deprivation levels mean education attainment was already far lower than the national average.
Even before the pandemic, disadvantaged pupils in England were found to be roughly 18 months of learning behind by the time they finish their GCSEs – the same gap as five years ago.
The Department for Education seems determined to turn a blind-eye to the reality of these inequalities and press ahead with GCSEs and A-Levels exams as planned, despite calls from teachers and education experts that there is no way of ensuring a fair and level playing-field.
Clearly lessons aren’t being learnt.
We all remember the scenes of chaos on A-Level results day, followed by yet another embarrassing backtrack from the government when they realised a generation of schoolchildren (and their parents) would blame them for an algorithm that could have ended their ambitions for good.
We need a proactive stance which avoids a repeat of that fiasco.
Yesterday, the Welsh Education Minister announced they would be cancelling GCSE and A-Level exams in favour of coursework.
This is a far fairer alternative and one which, as it has been planned in advance, will be more rigorous than if plans were to have to change at short notice.
GCSE and A-Level students will likely be voting at the next election.
They won’t forget the government putting their futures at risk for the sake of avoiding another U-turn.