Updated: Jan 11, 2021
As the United Kingdom settles into another period of unspecified lockdown, the impact on students, particularly those from marginalised backgrounds is profound.
The purpose of this article is to clarify current education policy and give students tips and advice on how to navigate studying during another period of uncertainty and how to meet their learning and achievement objectives.
On the 4th of January 2021, Boris Johnson announced to the nation that GCSE and A Level examinations taking place during the 2021 period were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering these cancellations, Gavin Williamson stated that replacing examinations this year, students will be awarded grades predicted by their teachers in August 2021.
Recommendations for Students and for Governmental/Policy Officials
Recommendation One: Need for a more robust and transparent grading system that supports all students free from bias.
Dr Suriyah Bi’s report (2020) exposes huge structural racial, gendered, sexual and class based biases in the teacher prediction model and the types of students likely to receive higher predicted grades. The DfE have made the right decision in opting for a more reliable grade awarding system. Despite this, there needs to be clarity around of which grades are awarded to students and why to ensure fairness and consistency in the grade awarding process.
Recommendation Two: Prioritisation of all courses, academic and non-academic and ensuring parity of esteem.
Whilst the Department for Education have provided comprehensive guidance about A Level and GCSE reforms, there has been little consolidation or support for students taking BTEC, International Baccalaureate and other vocational qualifications. The government announced on the night of Tuesday 5th January that school and college providers could deal with BTEC Examinations 'as they see fit' . We strongly recommend that the government make clearer provisions for BTEC & candidates of other vocational qualifications, private candidates sitting their exams independently, and International Baccalaureate students.
Recommendation Three: Free Devices (e.g. Laptops, Tablets) should be provided for disadvantaged students who do not have access to devices.
We strongly support the policy introduced by the Department for Education for laptops and tablets to be made available for disadvantaged children to support, facilitate, and strengthen remote learning. At the moment, schools and academies will need to apply on behalf students. Students should contact their schools to inform them that they intend to apply for these devices.
Recommendation Four: Free Internet Access and 4G Wireless Routers for disadvantaged students from Years 3 - 11.
In addition to Recommendation Three (listed above) and in order to reduce the digital divide, the Government have also pledged to increase (for free of charge) internet access to mobile data if students and their families are customers of the below networks:
· Sky Mobile
· Tesco Mobile
· Virgin Mobile
The Government have confirmed that they expect more providers to also increase their internet access. It is also important to mention that amount of data will vary according to provider. Data will be increased until the end of July 2021. Schools and colleges can request mobile data increases on behalf of students during Spring and Summer 2021. The Department for Education are also planning to give 4G Wireless Routers to trusts, local authorities and schools to give to disadvantaged children in the event of disruption to education.
Recommendation Five: BBC TV & Online Educational Platforms
The BBC has announced its most
ambitious educational offer in its history by devoting significant airtime and space to education, both across TV and online. Starting on Monday 11th January, CBBC will devote a three-hour block to primary education related programmes from 9AM, each weekday. BBC Two will cater predominately for secondary school students with programmes to support the GCSE curriculum, with at least two hours of core content each weekday. The ambitious TV offering sits alongside a comprehensive package of online content which parents, children, and teachers can access if when and where they need it. The website to access the content are as follows:
· For primary school students, the BBC Bitesize website is bbc.co.uk/bitesize. If you click on your year group and subject, all the relevant content will appear.
· For Years 7 – 9, Bitesize is home to two-week learning packs for English and Maths (KS3).
· For Years 10-11, the bitesize GCSE offer allows students to pick their subject, and exam board and find everything they need to help with their studies. Visit bbc.co.uk/bitesize/secondary for further details.
This piece has been written to inform and to empower students at a time of unprecedented challenge to education across the UK. Whilst there have been many developments in the education sector at breaking speed, it can feel difficult to keep up, and now more than ever, it is important for us to keep well abreast of changes. This article has provided concrete recommendations for how students can be assisted and facilitate their education in a safe environment over the next lockdown period.
As we have seen in the previous learning & assessment periods of 2020, this has caused huge confusion, uncertainty, and inequity amongst students. Rather than just understanding digital inequalities through a generational lens, Dr Hannah Holmes and Dr Gemma Burgess remind us of the intrinsic ways through which digital inequalities are intertwined alongside, and in some cases, exacerbate existing societal, economic, social, and political inequalities. An example of this point can be looked at in relation to the connection between poverty and digital exclusion:
‘having access to the internet from home increases with income, such that only 51% of households earning between £6,000 - £10,000 had home internet access compared with 99% of households with an income of over £40,001’ 
Please do keep in touch and let us know your thoughts on how you are navigating your education in the midst of a global pandemic. We can be contacted on our email address which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Love and Solidarity,
Usman Ali (Director of Postgraduate Admissions at Hi-R Education)
Esther Adeyemo (Creative Director of Hi-R Education)
Tosin Murana (Director of Hi-R Education)
Footnotes and List of Sources Used
 Bi (2020) “Predicting Futures 2.0: Examining Student Experiences of Predicted Grades Amidst Coronavirus Exam Cancellations”.
 'Pressure mounts on Williamson after BTEC Exams Reversal'.
 For further guidance around the Government’s issuing of devices for educational purposes.
 For further guidance around 4G Wireless Routers, please look at this policy. Source: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/get-help-with-technology-for-remote-education-during-coronavirus-covid-19
 For details around the BBC’s educational offering, please click here.
 Holmes and Burgess (2020) “Pay the wi-fi or fee the children”: Coronavirus has intensified the UK’s digital divide.