As we head into the second month of 2021, we’re mindful that students have been in and out of lockdowns for almost a year.
Covid-19 has impacted every aspect of their learning, social lives and futures, and record numbers are seeking support on The Student Room.
So what do young people think about how their education is being handled? We’ve been keeping a close eye on student behaviour and sentiment throughout January to find out.*
What’s going on with our student community?
There was an explosion of onsite activity in January, with 282,871 posts and engagement growth across all age groups. Compared with the same period last year, we saw:
- +39% posts
- +25% posts per poster
- +11% unique users posting
- +60% words written
- +53% ‘Rep given’ (users upvoting content as useful)
- +18% average time on site
How students are coping with exam cancellations
Our recent poll showed that a slim majority of students thought that cancelling A-level and GCSE exams was the right decision; however, a significant 37% were against it and 18% were unsure. This student-driven petition calls for the government to give students a choice over whether to take exams or receive assessed grades. Many more students are also calling for clarity around the new methods of assessment:
“It’s honestly ridiculous how we are being left in the lurch like this, surely they should have had a plan in advance for this scenario which was always going to be inevitable?”
“Why haven’t they automatically got a fallback plan? What’s the point in cancelling exams and then saying “well actually, no we’re still doing them. Does anyone else have any inside information via DofE /teachers etc as to what might happen? I’m very worried by the possibility of us being made to sit exams, despite missing so much learning.”
Our new forum, Coronavirus: Impact of Schools and Exams, saw a massive spike in traffic around the time of the school closure and exam cancellations announcements; this has settled down, but we still had 155,318 pageviews across January.
Private candidates still feel forgotten
There are high levels of stress amongst private candidates in our student community. This thread shows the extent of confusion and worry, despite communications between Gavin Williamson and Ofqual last month, in which Williamson stated:
“It is important that there is a clear and accessible route for private candidates to be assessed and receive a grade, and so the consultation should seek views on their options to do so.”
Some private students have posted directive comments, making it clear what they expect from education leaders:
“I just hope they decide that us private candidates can still sit our exams as originally planned because it’s ridiculous to cancel them for us. Their reason for cancelling is less contact hours which is not really our problem. I mean we shouldn’t have to be told we can’t sit exams aswell just because schools have been closed especially when we are privately funding and preparing for them in our own time.”
“Exams in these conditions are not FAIR or EQUAL. Private candidates have a problem obtaining CAGs, so petition for the government to find a way in allowing us to obtain CAG’s in the same way, without private companies ripping us off. Get them to assign us to exam centres, get them to find a STANDARDISED method of obtaining CAGs from home (online assignments) that every student, PRIVATE OR NOT, can do and achieve a fair grade.”
BTEC students are unclear on how they will be assessed
BTEC students are also waiting to hear how they’ll be given fair and consistent grades this summer. Many popular BTECs involve physical or practical skills and therefore are best suited to learning in the real world (e.g. Sport, Health and social care, and Engineering). Some colleges are going ahead with optional assessments. Onsite, traffic to our BTEC forum has peaked and quietened down.
Here are some comments from students:
“I keep checking for news and updates and it seems like all students who are unable to take the exam this month will get their grades some other way. Some students have decided not to go in for the exam (without having symptoms) despite their college saying they will go ahead. Currently, it seems like mini-assessments will form the basis of our grades, though teacher assessment may come into it as well.”
“I’m a year 12 BTEC student an I have an exam in the summer. What will happen in relation to this? Will I have to sit it this year or the next academic year?”
“my college dont have a clue either”
University applicants are worried about securing a place
A snap poll posted on 8th January showed that around half of students are sticking with their original choice for university. However, when asked: Have the latest Covid-19 announcements affected your decisions about university? around 8% said they are looking for universities nearer to home and 7% said they would be switching to a more career-related course.
Onsite posts show that 2021 applicants are feeling concerned about the impact assessment changes could have on their university applications. Anxiety is particularly rife among the competitive high achieving students, who are worried that the new forms of assessment won’t reflect their best work and could jeopardise their places at top universities:
“My predicted grades are ABB, which considering how much of a terrible student I was before this last year and a half is an absolute surprise, and I’m just a little bit worried to say the least. The offer was AAA and I want to achieve this so bad, I just don’t think I can get it.”
“So I applied to the university of Sheffield for an ABB course…However, with current events of teacher-assessed grades I think it’s more likely I’ll get a C for one of the grades. Do you think they’d still accept me if I ended up getting A*AC”
Current university students discuss rent strikes, student loans and teaching quality
A petition asking the government to reduce tuition fees has gained over 571,000 signatures. This didn’t gain much traction with users on The Student Room, with some students saying they would prefer rent reductions.
Following on from the thread we set up on 7th January to discuss news about student rent strikes, we’ve heard a number of reports about universities and accommodation providers offering partial or full refunds for students unable to make use of their university accommodation due to the lockdown. Opinions on the thread were divided:
“I’m a student at Lancaster university and honestly, the university need the money to uphold learning and infrastructure so it’s whether students want to compromise this for the sake of some short-term money that they never expected to have in the first place.”
“Universities should be flexible. No one can work right now unless you’re a keyworker which puts more people, especially students who were working part-time to support themselves under more stress financially.”
A worrying rise in mental health issues
Between 6 – 12th January, there were 2256 posts on our platform about stress, anxiety, or worry. Many of these posts can be found in our Coronavirus forum, university applicant threads and Medicine course entry threads, which shows the direct impact that the pandemic is having on students’ futures.
The Student Room launched a poll to find out what’s got students most worried during lockdown 3. With well over 1,000 responses the top five concerns were:
- Exam results (44%)
- Mental health (15%)
- Online learning (12%)
- Uni applications (10%)
- Job prospects and work experience (6%)
Here are some student comments that expand on specific issues:
“I find it hard to interpret why I am so demotivated, but the lack of it is certainly unmistakable.”
“Mental health, online learning (I don’t have a suitable study space at home and my home WiFi isn’t the best either), assessments/exams”
“schools are now putting loads of pressure on mock exams…uni applications…I haven’t seen my friends in months and we have sacrificed our exams”
“Jobs is the biggest one, I feel. If you don’t currently have a job, you’re going to struggle even more now”
Between 1 – 12 January, our Peer Support Volunteer helped 25 young people (about 2 a day) who were posting about suicide. Posts about suicide are up 56% year-on-year for this period.
The Student Room helps young people by providing support resources via a number of useful forums, including:
Overall, a common theme is that students want clear answers about what will happen with their education, their careers, and their social lives. They understand that Covid-19 continues to impact all of these areas, but they are looking to leaders to give them as much guidance and warning as possible about measures which will dramatically affect their lives.
Google analytics, The Student Room, 1 January 2020 – 31st January 2021
Navigating Changing Options report: “The impact of coronavirus on 2021 and 2022 UK undergraduate decision-making”
Author: Katie Hale