On 26th October 2020, Panorama covered the knock-on effects of Covid 19 on learners aged 16-25, their education and their job prospects. The documentary was presented by Cash Jones, a young journalist at the BBC. He wanted to investigate the implications of Covid 19 on his peers.
Although the virus itself is said to have less health implications for the young, the impact on young lives and mental health has been huge.
We first met Roberta, she was 16 and had just started on her A-level course. She had joined Harris Westminster Sixth Form which was not attached to her previous school. Harris Westminster Sixth Form is a selective mixed sixth form in central London which was established with the goal of increasing the rate of entry to top universities among students from areas of socio-economic deprivation. Although a great opportunity for Roberta, the experience has been somewhat marred due to Covid.
Roberta explains to Cash Jones that she feels she is struggling to keep up with the A-level work. During lock down and over the summer holidays, she did not receive any educational support from her previous school which meant that she felt unable to progress as well as other learners in her new cohort. She described a large disparity between the ability within her year group, expressing concern that she may be included in a group of learners she didn’t believe had time to catch up with the learning in order to pass their exams.
Roberta admitted that following such a long gap in her learning, she had found that she struggled with her concentration, feeling restless after 1 or 2 hours. She is unlikely to be alone in this difficulty, Cash Jones highlighted how 4 in 10 pupils still aren’t getting the same amount of teaching hours as before Covid. Furthermore, Kiylee White-Lee, Assistant Principal and Deputy Safeguarding Lead at Harris Westminster Sixth Form, recounted a massive increase in students with anxiety, in part caused by the sensory overload of returning to the classroom environment. She also expressed concern over an increase is eating disorders and depression among the learners she supervises. She warned that although teaching can be done online, it does not allow teachers access to information regarding the welfare of their young people. Teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to measure whether learners are coping with the increased stress and lack of financial security.
The DfE released figures stating that half of state secondary schools have pupils self-isolating.
Roberta raised further issues with learning from home which is the lack of educational support. In many instances, there is no one at home with an educational background who can support learning or assist with learner queries. This is further adding to the feelings of isolation in young people.
Later in the programme, we met Shannon, Roberta’s sister. She is resitting A levels she never had the opportunity to sit. Due to the controversial Ofqual Exam Algorithm, Shannon was left with grades which excluded her from applying to university. Shannon’s mum declared, “she’s lost a year out of her young life” and if this wasn’t enough of a sacrifice, Shannon and her mum were having to fund the resits themselves. In families with low income, this could be close to impossible, especially given the mass unemployment caused by Covid 19.
Cash Jones met with Professor Lee Elliot Major of University of Exeter and Professor Stephen Machin of London Schools of Economics next. They are conducting a landmark study into impact of Covid on young people. They described Covid 19 as an opportunity to address inequalities in society, calling for a “fundamental reset of thinking on these problems”.
This was a particularly relevant message for interviewee Rasheed. Rasheed had dreamed of being a pilot since he was 6 years old. He came from a low-income family but had managed to secure himself a pilot apprenticeship. Then Covid hit.
Rasheed was sent home from his apprenticeship and 4 months later, he was told that he couldn’t return unless he met the costs of the course himself. The costs were in the region of £60,000, a sum which was very much out of reach for Rasheed. He is left resorting to crowdfunding to support his education.
Rasheed emphasised, “the apprenticeship is worth its weight in gold because if you don’t come from wealth or money, then it gives you the opportunity to pursue a career [as a pilot], if you didn’t have the means before”. A reminder that the traditional academic education route is not always the most suitable. Apprenticeships can act as a great and equal educational route to a meaningful career.
Roberta closed the documentary saying, “all I want is to learn and progress”.