The final month of year 12 can be the most challenging yet rewarding time of a student’s schooling life but for Charli Knott, it was spent in a COVID-19 bubble playing professional cricket.
The Brisbane Heat all-rounder packed her bags on October 22, travelling south to Sydney for 47 days in the Women’s Big Bash League’s makeshift village.
The competition’s eight teams, with hundreds of players and staff, moved into the hub to ensure this year’s season went ahead, as the world battled a pandemic.
Days after the 17-year-old Brisbane State High School student arrived in the bubble she started her ATAR exam block.
“I had to travel to a school in Sydney called Cedar College and basically I just went into that school and sat all my exams just at that campus in a room with an adjudicator — it was all pretty well organised,” Knott said.
“All my spare time I was in my room studying, but having the opportunity to go and train was good to get my mind off study.
“Then similarly being able to study took my mind off cricket, but it was very hectic the first two weeks trying to fit all my study in.”
Missed some big milestones
Knott has missed her school formal, her graduation, and will not be able to celebrate her 18th birthday next Sunday at home with friends and family, including her identical twin sister Hannah.
“We’ve been together for a long time — we’ve been separated for shorter periods, but this is obviously a lot longer, so it’s a bit sad,” Hannah said.
“I was Facetiming her getting ready — I couldn’t talk to her at formal but it was still nice to have her there while getting ready.”
Knott said while it was sad she had not been able to celebrate those special milestones at home in Brisbane, there was no place she would rather be than playing cricket.
“I turn 18 the finals weekend actually on the 29th of November, the grand final’s on the 28th. Hopefully we make it that far,” she said.
From a family household to chaotic bubble
Knott isn’t the Heat’s only school student.
Georgia Voll, who is in year 11 at Brisbane State High School, is the youngest member of the team.
Voll and Knott are among 12 students who are living in the WBBL bubble and the group had been getting together for study sessions.
Brisbane Heat coach Ash Noffke said the side’s experienced players had taken the teenagers under their wing.
“We’ve got a female physio who’s come on for this trip — obviously we’ve got our sport psychologist and welfare officers back at home that are constantly touching base with them.
“We want the girls to be happy and relaxed — we probably don’t demand as much of them when we’re in this bubble — we try to spend some time together but spend some time apart as well.”
More than half of Canberra’s trainee doctors are failing their exams because they are overworked and burnt out, an internal review has found.
An internal review has pointed to long working hours, poor mentoring and little time for study as reasons Canberra’s junior doctors are failing exams
Trainee doctors in the ACT’s health system fail twice as often as the national average
The reviewers also found regular breaches of safe work requirements among trainee doctor rosters
ACT physicians doing their basic training had a pass rate of just 37 per cent last year, far below the national average of 70.6 per cent.
A review commissioned by ACT Health to determine why found staff in the Hospital Medical Office were regularly working paid and unpaid overtime.
After auditing staff rosters, the reviewers determined ACT Health had breached its legal obligations on multiple occasions.
The reviewers, Australia’s first Chief Medical Wellness Officer Bethan Richards and Physician educator Anne Powell, pointed to a culture of overworked and under-supported doctors at Canberra’s hospitals as the reason for high failure rates.
It found a burnout rate among basic physician trainees of 78.9 per cent, which was “well above the international average of 51 per cent”.
“Following several interviews with basic physician trainees, it became apparent that trainee wellbeing and burnout may be significant factors contributing to the low clinical exam pass rate,” the review said.
“There is a need for a review of safe working hours with a balance between training and service delivery.”
The review, released under freedom of information laws, was handed to Canberra Health Services in January with recommendations for a formal review of junior staff overtime.
Opposition health spokeswoman Giulia Jones said the rostering system was “clearly” inappropriate.
“The Canberra Liberals have heard over years and years and years about the stress that people work under in our hospitals in Canberra,” Ms Jones said.
Canberra Health Services launched an investigation in August into junior doctors’ pay, after concerns were flagged by some staff.
“It’s very clear from the report that there were some changes prior to these low pass rates that did affect the pass rates for these trainees,” Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said.
“Prior to those two years, our pass rates had been strong and it was the change that really was what drove the commissioning of this external review to understand what had driven that change and to ensure that those issues were addressed.
“Of the 50-plus recommendations, about 38 of those are assessed to already have been addressed and the remainder are continuing to be worked on.”
Roster audit finds several legal breaches
After speaking to staff, the reviewers audited rosters and found that the enterprise bargaining agreement and safe working hours were “often” breached.
Trainees reported feeling pressured to work even when unwell, with the review finding the sick relief roster was not adequately staffed.
Brutal hours often left trainee doctors little time to prepare for exams, with some trainees at Calvary Hospital saying they had been forced to work 150-hour fortnights.
“Several [trainees] reported regularly working a roster that comprised 12 consecutive days on, two days off followed by a further 12 consecutive days. One of the two days off was often utilised to sit a trial examination,” the review said.
The reviewers reported “several concerning stories about coercion to come to work despite requesting sick leave”.
Two-thirds of trainee doctors consequently reported feeling “down, depressed or hopeless” several days a fortnight.
The director of physician training is now monitoring rosters to ensure further breaches are not made, according to Canberra Health Services.
Ms Jones said the Health Minister needed to consider a serious overhaul of the system.
“We are not respecting these people as humans,” she said.
But Canberra Health Services’ executive director of medical services, Dr Nick Coatsworth, said many of the recommendations made by the reviewers had already been implemented.
Dr Coatsworth pointed to a better mentoring and supervision system to ensure trainee doctors were getting time to learn.
“There’s plenty of people to look after patients … if for some reason the registrar isn’t turning up to those protected teaching sessions, our director of physician training is onto it in real time to work out why,” he said.
He said Canberra Health Services was also partnering trainees who had failed exams with those who had passed, to help support them.
“We have done a lot to build this up in the past two years.”
The New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams are at the halfway point and for many lucky Year 12 students, their formal school years are already over after the first two weeks of written examinations.
For the others who are sitting any of the 42 remaining subjects, there is still another week or two to go.
Mr Bailwal, who attends Sydney Secondary College Blackwattle Bay Campus in Glebe, has his exams spread across the four-week HSC timetable.
He had almost a two-week gap between the mandatory English exams on the first two days, and the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PD/H/PE) exam on Friday.
He has five hours of writing next Thursday with the Geography exam and then the Industrial Media examination, then a week’s gap before the Drama exam — the last written examination of the entire HSC — on November 11.
“As a drama student I’m more focused on the practical part of it so it makes it more challenging, because the fun of drama is over, and the boring part [the theory exam] … it’s my least favourite exam,” Mr Bailwal said.
Keep the end in sight
Having a game plan for getting through the entire HSC period is just as important as having a plan to tackle each exam.
Ashley de Silva is the chief executive of youth mental health service ReachOut and says it is important to keep getting enough sleep and to continue eating well throughout the duration of exams.
“It’s important not to be so locked into this period at the exclusion of all other things,” Mr de Silva said.
He said balancing study with socialising and relaxation was important.
“[Prioritise] catching up with friends, even if it’s just phone calls after the exams.”
Facebook group gives exam relief
Support has been key for the class of 2020 which has faced unprecedented disruption to their studies with the COVID-19 lockdowns forcing students to learn online and delaying assessments.
Mr de Silva said it was “a tricky year” for the cohort.
“COVID-19 made students worry about their exams earlier in the year than what we would normally see,” he said.
But one Facebook group has given much support and relief to students across the state.
The Science Olympiad Foundation (SOF), said to be the biggest organiser of Olympiad exams for school students in the world, has announced that the exams will be conducted online, during the current academic year, in view of the pandemic situation.
Students can appear for SOF Olympiad exams from their homes. Every year around millions of students appeared for SOF Olympiad exam. As many as 54,000 students, from Class 1 to 12 of Visakhapatnam, appeared for the examinations last year.
Mahabir Singh, the founder-director of SOF, said in a statement that SOF is partnering a leading international organisation to conduct online exams. Extensive use of Artificial Intelligence, remote proctoring, video recording of exam and various other tools would be used to ensure integrity of exams. He also informed that during 2019-20, over 56,000 schools from 32 countries registered for the six exams and millions of students appeared.
Awards, gifts, prizes and scholarships were awarded to the winning schools and students from each class, State and also at the international level. SOF will conduct four Olympiad exams this year, including SOF International General Knowledge Olympiad, SOF International English Olympiad, SOF National Science Olympiad and SOF International Mathematics Olympiad.
Registrations are open and students may register up to 15 days in advance of each examination.
SOF aims at developing a spirit of competitiveness among students and to prepare them to face competition beyond their school level. A detailed performance analysis report is generated for each student to enable her/him understand strengths and areas requiring improvement. Also each student is provided a school, city, State and international rank, to enable the student know her/his level of preparedness and readiness to face competition, according to a statement issued here on Tuesday.
Some of the international institutes, which have partnered with SOF in conducting exams, include British Council, TCS, ICSI under The Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Govt. of India, and the National University of Singapore.
WE ARE ASKED to pity the young, and with reason. They have known little but austerity. Britain is run by a political party that few of them support. Brexit has crimped their freedom to live abroad; covid-19 has shut them in and eradicated the pint-pulling jobs they tend to get. But one cohort, born between late 2001 and late 2002, has just had an amazing break.
In March the government announced that A-level exams (taken at 18) and GCSEs (taken at 16) would be cancelled. Instead teachers would grade and rank pupils based on their past work. Ofqual, which oversees the exam system, would adjust the marks to bring them roughly into line with previous years.
It sounded sensible. And many teachers proved over-generous, as had been feared. They gave A* grades to 13.9% of pupils, compared with 7.7% who got that grade in 2019, and A grades to 23.8%, compared with 17.5% last year. Working-class students did especially well. Ofqual duly stepped in, lowering two-fifths of all grades after weighing students’ GCSE results and their schools’ past performance.
Many pupils felt punished by an algorithm. Some weaker students even ended up with U grades, normally given to utter failures. Others escaped being downgraded because they studied rare subjects, like music, or went to small schools (which are often private) with not enough data on past performance to allow for statistical adjustment. As Sir Jon Coles, chief executive of United Learning, a group of schools, puts it, roughly the right grades were handed out—but not to the right pupils. On August 17th the government caved, announcing that the teachers’ grades would stand.
Against fierce competition, this is the greatest humiliation yet endured by Gavin Williamson, the hapless secretary of state for education. Mr Williamson, who lost his last job after being accused of a leak (which he denies), allowed schools to close in March with no scheme for teaching remotely. His department then botched a plan to get primary children back to school, and failed to distribute enough laptops fast enough to pupils who needed them.
“The stock and credibility of the Department for Education was already quite low,” says David Laws, a former schools minister who is now at the Education Policy Institute, politely. It is now barely detectable. That is a problem. In three weeks’ time schools are supposed to reopen. The teachers’ unions, and many parents, are not convinced this is a good idea. Headteachers would find it easier to cajole everyone into the classroom if they were backed by a competent, respected department.
For universities, though, the fiasco is good news. The better ones expect a shortfall of foreign students, who pay higher tuition fees. Fearing that they would scoop up more Brits to compensate, thus robbing weaker universities, the government had capped their intake. That cap has now been removed. Lower-ranking universities now have an excellent case for demanding bail-outs. The government had been itching for a fight with universities, which it sees as complacent purveyors of often worthless qualifications, and annoyingly left-wing to boot. That will have to wait.
But the biggest winners are 18-year-olds. They have grades far better than they, or the universities that offered them places conditional on their A-level performance, could have expected. A few have even better grades than their teachers awarded: Ofqual adjusted one in 50 grades upwards, and those will stand. This year’s A-level cohort is small—732,000 pupils entered, down from 785,000 in 2017. Many will be able to go to top universities, though some will probably have to wait a year because their courses are full. The losers, if that happens, will be the following cohort, for whom there will be fewer places.
Something like this has happened before. During the turmoil of 1968, France waved many students through the baccalaureat exam. More men born in the late 1940s got degrees and landed professional jobs than in earlier or later cohorts. Even their children did better at school, says Sandra McNally, an economist at the University of Surrey who studied this episode. Degrees are not quite the ticket to middle-class life that they were. Still—to be 18. ■
Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub
This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “U and non-U”
Universities are preparing to deal with a rise in calls from students after ministers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales said A-level grades could now be based on teachers’ assessments.
Pupils who were rejected from universities last week on the basis of grades downgraded by an algorithm may now be able to revisit their choices.
But universities are warning there is a limit to what they can do.
Monday’s U-turn followed an outcry from students, teachers and some Tory MPs.
About 40% of A-level results were downgraded by exams regulator Ofqual, which used a formula based on schools’ prior grades.
Students reacted by holding protests across the UK, calling the grading system unfair, classist and a threat to their future.
On Monday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Ofqual chair Roger Taylor both apologised for the “distress” caused.
Mr Williamson said No 10 had worked with the watchdog to design “the fairest possible model” after exams had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it had become clear the process had resulted in “more significant inconsistencies” than could be dealt with by an appeals process.
The algorithm was meant to moderate the process of awarding grades to prevent teachers awarding what the exams watchdog described as “implausibly high” marks to pupils.
But it came under fire for its perceived unfairness and, particularly, the way it appeared to penalise bright children from disadvantaged schools.
The government’s U-turn means teachers’ assessments will also be used for GCSE results, due to be published on Thursday.
These centre assessment grades, as the government calls them, have been decided by schools after taking into account available evidence, including non-exam assessments and homework, and attempting to make a “fair and objective judgement”.
It is still unclear what the climbdown will mean for students taking specialist work-related qualifications, known as BTecs. Mr Williamson said he hoped they would also be subject to teacher-assessed grades, adding that the government was working with the “awarding authorities” to ensure this happened.
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK which represents vice-chancellors, has called for “urgent clarification” following the policy change and for the government to “step up” by supporting universities through the challenges it has created.
He warned that while 70% of students were placed with their first choice institution, those who were not should “think carefully about their next steps” and seek advice from their preferred institutions.
Mr Jarvis said the change would mean there were more students with the grades to match the offer of their first-choice university.
“This will cause challenges at this late stage in the admissions process – capacity, staffing, placements and facilities – particularly with the social distance measures in place,” he said.
Gavin Williamson has said that the extent of problems with England’s A-level results only became clear at the weekend.
But some Tory MPs are frustrated that there were months to prepare for this and problems weren’t spotted earlier, even after the issues in Scotland became clear a fortnight ago.
Questions are not just being asked of the government though – some MPs think Ofqual could have done more to avoid this crisis. Mr Williamson himself has said he asked repeatedly for reassurances and was told the system was fair.
There’s also the fact that there have been U-turns across the UK now, including from the Labour-led government in Wales and the SNP in Scotland.
But education has seen problems during this pandemic including the failure of the government to get all children in England back in the classroom before the summer break.
Mr Williamson remains in his job for now but he faces another significant test almost immediately – making sure the government does deliver this time on its pledge to open England’s schools next month.
Mr Williamson announced on Monday that a 5% cap on the number of extra students a university can take this year has been lifted.
Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group which represents 24 leading universities, said support would be needed to help with expected increases in student numbers.
“There are limits to what can be done by the university sector alone to address that uncertainty without stretching resources to the point that it undermines the experience for all, not to mention ensuring students and staff are kept safe as we follow the steps needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Zainab Ali, 18, from London, said it had been an awful and confusing experience – having initially been rejected from her first-choice of Queen Mary University of London. “I felt like I’ve been really let down. It was really, really stressful,” she said.
And Emily King, from Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, said being downgraded from a C to a U in her A-level biology had “really knocked her confidence” and meant she had been rejected by the University of Lincoln.
It is not clear if there is any guarantee that admissions decisions can be revisited if a course is already full, and some universities, including Durham, Sheffield, Bristol and Liverpool, had stopped offering places through clearing by Monday.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said 193,420 18-year-old applicants across the UK were placed with their first-choice university, which is higher than at the same point last year.
A Ucas spokesman said students who have not got into their first-choice institution should seek advice from their parents or teachers before contacting the university.
The government has said that students who accepted offers based on their downgraded results would be able to release themselves if another offer is reinstated based on their updated grades.
Prof Katie Normington, vice-chancellor of De Montfort University, told BBC’s Newsnight there was a lot of work for universities to do and it was not yet clear how they would receive the new results or process them.
She said: “I think all of us, as universities, will be looking at how we will treat those students fairly and we will be attempting to do that. It is obviously a lot of work for us but there are a lot of opportunities out there for students at the moment.”
‘Too slow to act’
Sam Freedman, who was a senior policy adviser to the Department for Education between 2010 and 2013, said he was surprised Mr Williamson had not resigned over the handling of A-level results and said it “beggared belief” that the secretary of state had said he was only aware of problems over the weekend.
“I can’t think of many other education secretaries who wouldn’t have already resigned,” he said.
Seema Malhotra, shadow employment minister, said the government had been “too slow to act” and the “crisis” had come at a “huge cost for children, their families and for the education sector”.