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Hello Tom

I’m contacting you as Frazer Cowan’s dad who is in year 11.

Firstly, I’d like to issue my thanks and gratitude for the way the UTC has coped with and managed the impact of the Coronavirus. Your planning, contingencies and regular detailed updates has made keeping up to date with Frazer’s education easy to follow and manage.  With Frazer having siblings both at local schools and the Sixth Form, I feel well qualified to lavish praise on the UTC.

Frazer advises me that today in English you listened carefully to the students’ views with regards to the GCSE examinations in 2021. 

It is very unlike Frazer to voice strong opinions; but he has with regards to the 2021 exams. He quite simply says it’s unfair. He doesn’t feel that he has received 100% of what he’s entitled to educationally, through no fault of anything other than COVID. But he’s also expressed concern for some of his peers at UTC whom he knows hadn’t adapted to home working as well as him. He worries about himself not achieving in his exams, but also those he’s identified as in a worse situation than him.

I’ve had a fairly informed overview of the impact of Coronavirus & its knock on effect regarding education.  I retired in January this year after a 30-year career as a police officer, finishing as an Inspector at Darlington.  With Frazer at the UTC, and three other children in local education, I was immersed during lockdown in the conflicting needs of sharing study space, internet use and emotional support.  My kids have coped admirably at different levels, but none of them have made the progress they would have done in full time education and all of them have been sent home again for parts of this term.

I really do feel for the students at your and other schools. With my career giving me a unique insight into home life across all aspects of the social spectrum, I can only imagine the detrimental impact the last 8 months have had.  Disrupted family dynamics, illness, loss of income and social restrictions linked to lockdown are bitter pills to swallow, even for the strongest family unit. Throw in a requirement to maintain an expected level of education, and my admiration for teaching staff and students who have achieved anywhere close to this is immense.

I am at a point now - having given due regard to all the circumstances available to me - to believe GCSE exams next year are a bad idea. I feel that between now and next summer that students should feel protected and supported in their learning, rather than feeling anguish and pressure for examinations that they’ve been poorly prepared for - through no one’s fault other than circumstance.  I strongly advocate that assessment of course work and work completed during home schooling, combined with teacher assessed grades should be used to award GCSE grades this coming summer.

I’ve understood clearly how Frazer has been coping; it makes me very concerned for all the students out there who will be struggling and worrying in silence. I applaud your decision to listen to reasoned concerns and hold mature discussions with your students in lesson time about the 2021 GCSE’s.  It could be more valuable than you realise.

Obviously the devolved educational powers linked to Scotland and Wales have ‘cancelled’ their equivalent exams next year, with a different proposed strategy for obtaining these grades.  We can’t have the home nations singing from different hymn sheets with regards children’s futures - a clear acceptance of reality is needed and that means no exams next year.  We have the ingredients in place for teacher assessed grades and should trust teachers’ judgments. That is the way forward.

I feel I may be preaching to the converted, but needed to express my opinions directly to someone who might just have the power to rock the boat in the right direction.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my email.

Kindest regards

Simon Cowan