Covid-19 will be remembered by educationalists for the havoc it wreaked on the 2020 exam season. Without suggesting for a minute that there was a better solution to the predicament, in haste and unable to nail down the detail, Ofqual launched a plan that left submission rules and regulations open to interpretation and exam centres found themselves taking their own view on what was, and indeed, what wasn’t permissible in terms of grade prediction material.
For private candidates, there ensued a lottery where some got through the gate on submitted evidence whilst others were turned away without even a suggestion that they may be able to stake a claim for a predicted grade. The upheaval caused has been well documented and many centres have come in for much criticism. Fortunately, at MMP we worked with a healthy number of centres who were quick to help and came to the rescue of those private candidates marooned by the changing of the exam tidal wave.
Working globally with a range of schools and private candidates, MMP encountered a variety of approaches. April and May 2020 will be indelibly remembered as months of huge industry for those trying to salvage some good from the situation. One centre to serve its clients fairly was The Old School in Saint-Colomb-de-Lauzun, Lot and Garonne, France; certainly going that extra mile to help students at a very stressful time.
The school is popular locally providing its British curriculum but also with students from further afield in France, Spain and beyond who are either home educated or educated within their resident country’s educational system but perhaps trying for UK university admissions. The new 9-1 GCSES and IGCSEs in English Language and Maths are becoming increasingly important to overseas students who want to embark on certain courses at UK universities and this has seen an increase in children trying to obtain those all-important qualifications. The Old School is fast becoming recognised for making that provision.
Personally, a year before, in 2019 I took a different approach to exams for my own two home educated sons. Rather than consider exams to be a hurdle to be jumped we opted to make a holiday of the occasion – a perfect tonic for my eldest, exam anxious son who was at the time, facing his last five GCSES, so we booked The Old School. We needed somewhere rural and personable. We’ve always endeavoured to keep every aspect of our school journey positive. Exam stress and general angst are common factors and also quite prevalent amongst children who find the school environment a challenge at the best of times. This wasn’t the case with my son, he simply wanted to do his best, but regardless of reason, finding an exam centre that offers a stress free experience can be a challenge. For long term home educated students (my two have never spent a day in secondary school) the hustle and bustle of a large school can further add to the already charged atmosphere. The Old School is quite the opposite: small, friendly and relaxed.
So we decided to make a holiday of it; exams combined with camping, swimming, kayaking on the Dordogne and barbecues most evenings. We booked a Eurocamp site at nearby Pomport and whilst the boys were under the spot light in the exam hall we were able to site see around Bergerac and Eymet. Mornings and afternoons where we didn’t have exams were passed at leisure and we were even fortunate enough to meet a Eurocamp Courier who was a former international chess player and happy to spend many an hour passing on his skills. The whole occasion will be long remembered as a delight rather than an ordeal; so much so that my boys were hugely disappointed when the subsequent 2020 exam season was put on ice and we too found ourselves swept up in the predicted grade mayhem.
Once again, the Old School delivered a practical solution. This time my youngest faced his last five GCSEs and after much deliberation, opted for remotely taken invigilated exams, assembly of stacked evidence and procurement of examiner references. It wasn’t an easy solution because all of us are in uncharted territory when it comes to how this may pan out, but The Old School made it possible. My poor child faced 10 exams in five days but he’s tough, he survived, and thus felt liberated to say goodbye to his GCSE revision and focus on his A level studies.
Moving on, let us hope that 2021 enables the return to some sense of normality but now is the time to plan for every possible scenario. Private candidates need to be seeking out exam centres that will work with a degree of flexibility without financial penalty and students need to be amassing evidence and procuring some proof of tutor endorsement. At a higher level, whilst home educators value their privacy enormously and cherish their right to do things their way, privacy can sometimes come at the price of invisibility and the government need to recognise that these souls cannot be cut adrift, simply because they are a tiny percentage of the entire annual exam cohort. Each one of them has worked incredibly hard, often without extra support and deserves a right to have their opportunity kept alive.
Let’s hope for a more positive outcome in 2021.
The Old School, Le Bourg, 47410 Saint-Colomb-de-Lauzun, France
Tel: 00 33 5 53 64 24 97
The old school offers Edexcel GCSEs, IGCSE and A Levels including science practicals through Biograd. It is based in Saint-Colomb-de-Lauzun and Monbahus.