It may have been worse, as some dad and mom will likely be whispering even now by way of a furiously slammed teenage bed room door. GCSE grades had been all the time going to have to come back down, ultimately, from the artificially inflated excessive of the pandemic years; and after they did, it was by no means going to be truthful. How may or not it’s? So there could have been tears for some, on ripping open the envelope, with solely 22.4% of entries in England this yr getting grades 7 to 9 – an A or A* in outdated cash – down from a peak of 30% in 2021, when exams had been scrapped and lecturers needed to guesstimate grades.
Worst hit of all are those that would in all probability have managed the required grade 4 in English and maths, if they’d sat the exams final yr – however not this, and now having to face demoralising resits and worries about discovering a job. That Wales and Northern Eire selected to maintain marking extra generously for one more yr solely provides salt to the wound elsewhere.
However move charges are nonetheless very barely forward of 2019 ranges, and at the very least heads of sixth types are providing to be versatile with those that simply missed out on entry necessities for A-levels. If future employers make themselves equally aware of which yr drew the brief stick, the harm could possibly be restricted. What these outcomes do supply, nevertheless, now the mud has settled and all of the results-day TikToks have been posted, is a clearer glimpse of Covid-19’s lengthy, anxiously twitching tail.
What has been worrying lecturers for months within the run-up to exams is a stubbornly persistent rise in kids lacking from class – absences are nonetheless operating at greater than double the speed of the pre-Covid years, with one in 20 youngsters of their GCSE yr lacking at the very least half of their lessons – and in addition an increase in psychological well being issues, particularly amongst ladies. (A couple of in 5 16-year-old ladies had been involved with NHS psychological well being providers final yr). Speak to lecturers, and it’s clear these two seemingly separate phenomena are intimately linked.
What faculties describe is much less a wave of hardened truants bunking off to do one thing extra thrilling, and extra a rising tide of tension making kids wish to cover beneath a cover. The brand new absentees are usually emotionally overwhelmed and weak, not defiant. They’re disproportionately more likely to be residing in poverty or to have particular academic wants and disabilities that make life in busy mainstream lecture rooms powerful. This summer season, heads reported unusually massive numbers of youngsters merely failing to show up for exams, or panicking and strolling out within the center.
As Evelyn Forde, president of the Affiliation of College and School Leaders, places it: “For a few of them, mentally and emotionally, they simply discovered it an excessive amount of.” There’s a worrying fragility to this technology of youngsters that arguably predates Covid-19. Again in 2019, Theresa Might’s report State of the Nation 2019, concluded that kids’s wellbeing and psychological well being had declined over the earlier decade. That appears to have worsened amid the uncertainty and disruption of current years, the results of which at the moment are maybe coming to mild.
This yr’s GCSE outcomes present the hole between state and personal faculties, which widened alarmingly throughout lockdown, has shrunk a bit – although detailed examination of what’s occurred to the hole between wealthy and poor should look forward to the autumn. The longstanding north-south divide appears, nevertheless, if something extra clearly entrenched. Solely 17.6% of entries within the north-east – which had the very best absence fee within the nation, alongside the south-west – received a grade 7 or above; in London, the place absence charges had been lowest, 28.4% did.
A lot for levelling up. For all of the longstanding issues about underachieving boys, in the meantime, this yr they’ve barely narrowed the hole with ladies, who had been, coincidentally or not, barely extra probably than boys to overlook classes.
No person in schooling, from the secretary of state downwards, wanted this yr’s examination outcomes to inform them that kids do higher after they come to high school day-after-day. Ministers are already increasing a pilot scheme providing mentors to kids vulnerable to dropping out, and inspiring heads to share concepts for getting them again.
Earlier this summer season I visited some excellent faculties which can be getting kids by way of the door in opposition to the percentages. However even they aren’t essentially discovering it straightforward. One thing appears to have occurred to kids through the pandemic that adults haven’t correctly understood or helped them recover from; and whereas lecturers are doing their greatest to select up the items, it could’t be solely their job.
For the entire of my life as a mother or father, I’ve watched politicians combating over schooling – the whole lot from which useless poets ought to function on the curriculum to extra titanic battles over free faculties and academies, Sats exams and Ofsted priorities – with various levels of weariness. However more and more, from a faculty gate perspective, it’s all starting to sound faintly surreal. It’s not that oldsters have out of the blue began caring much less about instructing requirements, or bagging a spot within the secondary of their alternative, however that many people now fear extra about kids’s deeper wellbeing and concerning the inquiries to which no one actually appears to have solutions.
Why are kids’s nervousness ranges seemingly a lot greater than they had been a decade in the past – so excessive, apparently, that some seemingly can’t go away the home within the mornings? Has their psychological well being genuinely worsened, or are we merely higher at diagnosing issues that previously had been in all probability missed? Might we even be too fast, typically, to pathologise teenage feelings that might as soon as have been thought of intense however regular? Has rising up steeped in social media scarred our children someway, or is tech simply a straightforward scapegoat? Is the limitless tradition of testing in faculties serving to or harming? After which the nagging one which retains dad and mom awake at night time: did we unwittingly do one thing unsuitable? Did we push too laborious, or coddle an excessive amount of?
What’s baffling is that whereas political events nibble tentatively on the edges of all this – providing just a few measly million extra for kids’s psychological well being providers right here, a bit extra regulation of social media there – none of them appears daring sufficient to attract all these threads collectively.
The place is the sense of nationwide urgency, the royal fee on the declining happiness of youngsters, the general public figures opening up tough conversations? Even the official inquiry into Covid-19 was criticised, earlier this month, by kids’s charities for what they known as “unacceptable delays” in searching for proof from and about under-18s. This yr’s examination outcomes ought to mark the start and never the top of a significant inquiry into how the pandemic has already modified our kids, and threatens to form their future for a while to come back.