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Concrete crisis: Calls to increase exam grades at schools worst hit by RAAC

Pupils at schools badly affected by the crumbling concrete crisis should have their exam grades increased, education experts have said.

Hundreds of schools have been forced to partially or fully close after being found to have reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) - a commonly used building material which is at risk of collapsing after 30 years.

The unsafe concrete crisis has also impacted hospitals and a concert hall and has even been found in the Houses of Parliament.

Exam boards have so far refused to make exceptions for pupils at affected schools who are sitting GCSE and A-Level exams this summer - despite both teachers and children facing a series of problems as a result.

The affected schools include St Leonard's Catholic School in Durham, one of the top-performing state schools in the North East at GCSE level, which had to scrap teaching plans at the start of the academic year in September due to the presence of RAAC.

Now a study of St Leonard's by education experts, published on Thursday, has concluded exam grades could be fairly increased by 10% this summer.

The experts from Durham University urged government ministers, together with exam boards and the exam regulator, Ofqual, to make a plan to "relieve the anxiety of students in the school and others like it" and offer them "qualification outcomes equivalent to what would have happened in the absence of the crisis."

Study authors, Professors Stephen Gorard and Nadia Siddiqui, from the university's Evidence Centre for Education, said: "The Department for Education could perhaps direct that something like this takes place as part of their package of measures to help those few schools faced with the worst of the RAAC crisis."

'None of this is an effective way of learning'

St Leonard's was forced to close at very short notice in September and no teaching took place in the first week of term, the report found.

Online lessons began shortly after, with face-to-face classes slowly resuming in cramped conditions.

Children in years seven and eight are being taught offsite at a college four miles away.

The school sports hall now serves as several classrooms. However, the lack of ceilings makes acoustics poor - meaning pupils struggle to hear their teachers.

Children are taught maths and English in classes of 120, with recent internal assessments showing they typically scored a grade lower than expected in tests.

In other subjects, pupils are said to be weeks behind.

One science teacher told the study how children have developed a dislike of the subject as "there are no experiments and lab activities for them", negatively impacting their performance.

Head boy James Smith said: "The lack of suitable space in the school is really starting to have an impact.

"There is such a demand for space that pupils are searching for classrooms in their free periods, while some students are going to local cafes to study, or having to go home and then return for later lessons.

"None of this is an effective way of learning and is very concerning when we are only five months away from our exams."

Teachers are 'burning out'

Another pupil described teachers as "tired and exhausted", adding: "It is so difficult to teach in sports halls where teachers have to talk loudly but still we cannot hear them clearly at the back row."

Labour MP for Durham, Mary Kelly Foy, who has campaigned on behalf of parents during the crisis, added: "Teachers are burning out. They're doing everything they can to support their pupils but their energy and motivation is finite and their wellbeing is suffering.

"This clearly affects all students massively, but for those who will sit exams this year it is completely unfathomable why neither the government, Ofqual nor exam boards are prepared to offer reasonable adjustments to reflect the severe level of disruption they have faced."

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A Department for Education spokesperson said it has been working "at pace" with schools to identify RAAC and minimise disruption.

It has asked awarding bodies to consider longer extensions for coursework and non-examined assessments.

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Education Secretary Gillian Keegan came under fire for opening "Pandora's box" on the concrete crisis, Sky News exclusively revealed.

She also faced fierce criticism after "outrageous" comments telling school chiefs to "get off their backsides" and fill out a survey on whether they have unsafe concrete on their sites.