Handling anxiety and tutor engagement tools

Emily

A live Q&A discussion about anxiety and some excellent practical tips for student engagement with Bright Heart tutor, Emily.                          

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

In a live Q & A, John Salmon, M.Ed, has an enlightening discussion with Bright Heart tutor, Emily. Student anxiety as well as some good tools for student engagement are covered. 

Handling anxiety and tools for student engagement - a tutor's perspective (Livestream)

We recently held a Facebook Live Q&A with Bright Heart tutor Emily. This was a follow up from her well-received blog on practical tips for anxiety and self-care.  

This was hosted by Bright Heart director and former headteacher John Salmon, M.Ed

Emily discussed anxiety during lockdown and what she has observed in her students. She also discussed some handy tools for engagement, especially Minecraft, which is always popular with younger students! 

Please watch directly on Youtube or below, and see the list of key questions covered for your convenience.

Key questions covered

Do you have further questions about anxiety?

We would love to hear from you on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch with us directly. 


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Why should children learn how to code?

Young boy enjoying coding

The benefits of learning to code are outlined here by Firetech Camp. Firetech Camp provide self-guided coding courses.       

Firetech logo

Guest post 

by Firetech Camp

Coding can be started at a young age and provides many benefits outlined below, including improving resilience and problem solving.

Why should children learn how to code?

One of the many outcomes from 2020 is the extent to which our lives – personal, social, professional – are increasingly shaped by technology. Zoom calls bring us closer together; apps connect us to the goods and services we need; and, amidst economic fallout from the pandemic, jobs in technology are second only to those in healthcare in their growth since the summer.

It has never been more important for young people to develop the tech skills they need to succeed at school and in future careers. Coding is often described as one of the most important skills of the future, and that children should learn from an early age to increase their chance of success. 

Bill Gates once said, “coding is not difficult ”. 

While this is easy for the founder of Microsoft to claim, there has never been a better time to learn – and there are plenty of entry routes for beginners. So, what are the benefits of children learning to code?

boy learning how to code
Learning to code can start at a young age.

Coding teaches you how to think

Coding is part of the discipline of Computer Science which itself is defined by the term ‘Computational Thinking’. In his seminal book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, Seymour Papert – the renowned mathematician, computer scientist and educator – wrote that computational thinking is a ‘mode of thought’. Papert claimed coding can help to transform the way “intelligence is developed” as it is “step-by-step, literal, mechanical” and a very useful analytical skill.

All of us already think ‘computationally’ when we take any problem and formulate it into something that can be solved. Computational thinking can be applied to juggling a family’s schedule, so everyone gets where they need to go and on time! Know that one well?

Before writing any code, computational thinking requires a decomposing of the ‘problem’, recognising the patterns within it and applying abstraction. Young people become better problem solvers by learning to be analytical, to break down complex activity into bite-sized chunks, and to be precise. Coding is an execution of computational thinking.

Coding encourages problem solving

Too often, we give children answers to remember, rather than problems to solve.” – Roger Lewin, Observing the Brain Through a Cat’s Eyes, 1974.

Understanding computers and learning the basics of coding helps children to develop an appreciation of how things work, and a logical approach to problem solving.

When writing code, there is rarely an answer to remember. Instead, learning to code involves developing a thorough understanding of subjects through curiosity, investigation, and experimentation. Much like the way that programmers ‘debug’ code to find errors, humans can learn complex things through breaking them down into simpler, smaller tasks.

Coding promotes creative thinking

Coding offers children a medium to express their creativity and design something that is entirely their own, that is directly relevant to the world they inhabit. Coding languages like Scratch make it easier than ever to learn how coding works; and, as it is easy for children to pick up, confidence comes easily.


While exploring with code, young people have the chance to put their skills into practice by working on their own projects – whether it is designing a video game, creating a world in virtual reality, or designing a computer vision algorithm using AI! Across the world this year, we have seen young people design AI models that try to detect COVID-19 patients, created virtual worlds to discover extinct wildlife, and built their own YouTube cooking channels to inspire others. It is extraordinary what young people can create with code!

Coding is cool!

Coding builds soft skills like resilience

Trial and error is fundamental to coding: a programmer writes code, runs the code, and debugs the errors. As such, this process helps children become used to failure and iterative improvement as a means of learning, which in itself helps them develop resilience.

Papert discusses how traditional educational settings often discourage this skill of ‘debugging’ how something works by focusing on whether an answer is either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. He believes that, when faced with a ‘bug’, the right question for students to ask is ‘How can we fix it?’ – thus promotes the value of discovery and inquisitiveness.

This problem-solving approach helps them learn how to think critically and bounce back from failure.

Coding gives young people a thrill

I am interested in why young people undertake some activities obsessively in some cases, and reluctantly in others. Children may spend hours on their favourite hobbies – mastering a video game, improving their technique at tennis, or learning to play a musical instrument. However, we rarely see this level of obsession with schoolwork.

Young boy enjoying coding
Learning coding provides a thrill and builds resilience.

So, what is at play here? The first difference is motivation: with hobbies, motivation is often intrinsic (self-generated) rather than extrinsic (imposed by, for example, your classroom teacher). Intrinsic motivation flourishes through a combination of: conscious choice; reward systems to develop self-esteem, that set goals, share feedback and recognise progress; personalisation, where students focus attention on the subjects they’re most interested in; scaffolded problem-solving, where challenges are broken down into achievable stages; and real-world application, to help contextualise how what they learn is relevant to their lives. Each of these elements help to foster students’ curiosity.

Likewise, each is a characteristic of learning how to code.

Coding gives young people access to the adult world

A chief goal of school-age education is to help prepare a child for adulthood. The need to learn does not end with school; rather, education is an ongoing, lifelong process. Adults learn in a very different way to school. Adult learning typically occurs as and when a challenge presents itself – ‘how do I solve a problem at work?’ ‘How can I fix something at home?’ ‘How can I develop my mindset to deal with daily pressures?’ – and most through self-study, rather than relying on a teacher.

Find the right course for you

Fire Tech’s self-guided courses are available on all your favourite topics, from artificial intelligence and Python, to video game design and augmented and virtual reality.

For a short time only, get £25 off any Fire Tech courses over £100 with the code BH25. Build your own video game, brush up on your Python coding skills, perfect your digital photography skills, and dive deep into artificial intelligence. To find out more about Fire Tech’s self-guided courses, visit their website here or call their team on 020 8038 7862.

Note that Bright Heart Education is not affiliated with Fire Tech, but allowed Fire Tech to guest publish this blog as we agree that coding is a great skill for children to learn.


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Facebook Live Q & A with Jolanta Lasota, CEO of Ambitious about Autism

Live Q & A with Ambitious about Autism

A stimulating and insightful live discussion on autism dispelling misconceptions, while providing advice for parents.                            

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

In a live Q & A, John Salmon, M.Ed, has an informative discussion on autism with Jolanta Lasota, CEO of Ambitous about Autism

Facebook Live with Jolanta Lasota, CEO of Ambitious about Autism

We recently held a Facebook Live Q&A to address parents’ questions about autism.  This was hosted by Bright Heart director and former headteacher John Salmon, M.Ed., with questions answered by Jolanta Lasota, CEO of Ambitious About Autism. This national charity was set up in 1997 and provides support for children and young adults with ASC. More recently they have created colleges and schools in London to support young people with autism.

Facebook Live streaming

Key questions covered

Live Q & A with Ambitious about Autism
Click on the picture to watch the Q & A with Jolanta Lasota, CEO of Ambitous about Autism.

Do you have further questions about autism?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly with any questions. 


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‘Tricks and treats’ – a tutor’s perspective on anxiety

scary pumpkin

A Bright Heart tutor looks at we can do to address anxiety with some helpful tricks and treats!                            

Emily

Emily

Bright Heart tutor Emily looks at some coping tools to help when suffering with anxiety

'Tricks and treats' - a tutor's perspective on anxiety

Anxiety. It’s a term we’re all familiar with. In recent years, mental health has (thankfully) become a more ‘approachable’ subject as people try their best to empathise and understand their peers and loved ones.

Now, in the world of Covid-19, many of us experience anxiety on a day-to-day basis – some for the first time, others having their symptoms aggravated by the current climate. As it plays tricks on our minds, it becomes more vital to address this anxiety within ourselves – as well as opening the conversation with children and young people.

anxiety
Conversations about anxiety are much needed

My background

I’ve been working with children and young people for 10 years, engaging with them, encouraging their passions and enjoying their energy. Their energy has always been utterly contagious and incredibly therapeutic.

Over the last few months, I’ve continued working with clients – though mostly online – and I’ve noticed a significant change in their demeanour, engagement and energy. Everyone deals with stresses and anxieties in different way as it manifests differently in each individual. However, I have noticed that one symptom that nearly every single student has is fatigue. Initially I was really concerned, until I realised, that nearly every single person that I have met with and spoken with is experiencing the same. We’re exhausted. This is completely understandable due to the ‘fight or flight’ human instinct that has been ignited in all of us – our bodies are knackered as we try to fight an invisible enemy, fiercely protecting one another and our loved ones.

As someone born and raised in Northern Ireland, my automatic coping mechanism to anxiety is to inject humour into whatever I can. This dry (and often dark) sense of humour relieves my stress but saying that, injecting humour into Covid-19 has been a nearly impossible task – though I often try. I’ve sat here with my thoughts, trying to think of ‘wee’ tricks to treat ourselves to help us cope with our anxiety. I’ll run through a few – and I hope they’re of benefit to you! (accidental rhyme but I ‘dig it’)

scary pumpkin
Some helpful tricks to treat yourself are considered

1. Exercise

The first trick (and I would 100% call it a trick) is exercise. The one we all dread to read on every helpful website or book that we’ve read. Exercise has been scientifically proven to help with anxiety symptoms. It’s funny that I’ve read this a million times, yet I still need at least 30 minutes of ‘psyching myself up’ on the sofa to actually take that step to, get up and start exercising. Thankfully, children don’t tend to need much encouragement to go run amuck! It’s good for them – and you (but I won’t judge if you’d rather sit down with a cuppa!).

2. Nature

Nature is one of the best remedies of all time, an inexpensive treat for sure! For most of us, just visualising nature brings us a sense of calm and quiet – it encourages near instant relaxation. Walk in nature when you can, better yet – go and stomp in those puddles, play in the mud and run around until you can’t feel your legs! Especially at this time of year, with the gorgeous autumn leaves decorating the ground – it’s difficult not to want to be surrounded by natural beauty. 

Further to this, it has been proven that visiting ‘a body of water’ – a lake, a river or the sea – is soothing to the soul, that and the smell of and/or contact with soil releases serotonin! It is an ancient belief that water replenishes your energy and cleanses your mind. I don’t know about you – but the moment I sit by the lake in Wimbledon Park, I feel like I can breathe again. It’s a calming activity for you and I guarantee, the children will LOVE feeding the ducks or swans (though please don’t use bread, try oats, sunflower seeds or leftover lettuce!).

nature scene
Nature is one of the best remedies

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ‘trick’ to life. Every session I take some time to engage my students with mindfulness. These activities are often based in grounding techniques that aid with concentration. They will also help someone feel more present, which is proven to alleviate and reduce anxiety symptoms. Try your best to keep your home as your sanctuary – for your sanity and also for the rest of your family! It is challenging, Covid-19 has consumed our conversations alongside our mental and emotional energy. Undoubtedly, it is important to discuss it – it is after all a GLOBAL pandemic – but our whole lives don’t need to be consumed. 

Interestingly, two weeks ago, I set homework for all my students – they needed to find an activity that relaxed them that didn’t involve technology. This led to some interesting conversations and discoveries. Obviously, technology is great, especially now as we use it to connect with people – it means children can stay in touch with their friends, play games and make conversation. However, it’s important to know that we can still live without it! When my students returned, I found it fascinating how most of them felt like music and the arts relaxed them. Colouring became a stand-out in our conversations. Colouring books are easy to find locally and online – and an added bonus is that they now have colouring books for adults, so you will be able to join in!

4. Music

Another major trick (and treat!) is music. Full disclosure – I’m incredibly biased when it comes to music. As a professional musician, music is my life – and quite honestly, my sanity! I frequently use it to engage my students e.g. writing songs to revise topics. 

Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, stated that ‘music is food for the soul’. Music has been proven to reduce stress in children and young people. Encouraging children and young people’s engagement should certainly help with anxiety symptoms – whether it is playing, singing or listening. I always lived by the motto that a home full of music is a home full of love. Of course – whenever I go home to N.I., I’m faced with Taylor Swift blasting from speakers upstairs, Shania Twain in the kitchen and some wonderful Rolling Stones echoing from the study. It’s chaotic – but it’s a nice reminder that there is energy at home. When music plays – the worries of the world melt away.

Relaxing music
'Music is food for the soul'

5. Self care

It is here that I reach my final ‘trick’, arguably the most important, self-care. When discussing self-care, people often look to the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. This, of course, is all well to remember as you watch the safety instruction on the plane before you jet off – it is an entirely different thing to remember all day, every day.

Children pick up on EVERYTHING – as I’m sure you’re all aware. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, your child will pick up on your energy. This is not said to add any more stress – rather it is a remind to care and look after yourself. Light some candles, run a bath, listen to some smooth jazz – whatever helps you relax and decompress after a long day. If you need reminding, just think of the wonderful quote (adapted) from RuPaul, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how can you love somebody else?’

Keep up the great work!

I hope some of these tricks and treats are beneficial to you. Heck – even just reading this will be a break (hopefully a nice one) from your day. The key thing to remember is that you are trying your best. Even on the days where you don’t feel like you are, you are. You cannot do better than your best! As I say to every student, after every session – Keep up the great work!

Contact us

If this article rings true for you, then please get in touch and let us know how best we can help.


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Bright Heart Education wins nasen award

Bright Heart wins 2020 nasen Award

We are proud winners of a nasen award for Co-Production with Children and Young People and their Families.                                     

Bright Heart

Our nurturing and person-centred approach with students, families and organisations has been validated with a 2020 nasen Award!

Bright Heart Education wins nasen award

Bright Heart has won a 2020 nasen Award! This was awarded for Co-Production with Children and Young People and their Families.

nasen award Bright Heart Education winner
Bright Heart Education is a proud recipient of a nasen award.

The nasen awards

The annual nasen awards celebrate achievements within the global SEND sector. Nasen (the National Association of Special Educational Needs) is a UK charity that has been supporting SEND practitioners for over 25 years.

The awards are typically presented at an awards dinner in central London. Due to COVID-19, the ceremony was postponed this year and the awards were announced virtually.

This year, nasen received a record number of nominations from across the world.

How does nasen judge its winners?

Nasen expects to see evidence of common features of practice across all 13 award categories. Award categories include awards for individuals as well as organisations from the UK and globally.

Common features are:

Validating our mission

Bright Heart was established to be the UK’s leading provider of tuition for students who would benefit from a more nurturing approach to learning. We strive to serve students as well as other stakeholders involved in the holistic learning process. This includes family members, tutors and local authorities.

On receiving this award, Bright Heart’s Co-founder, Dr Ryan Stevenson, noted:

We are extremely proud to have won this nasen award. It is great to see our nurturing, person-centred approach being acknowledged with this award. This is inspiring for the Bright Heart team and its dedicated tutors. We look forward to continuing to provide exceptional service to all of our students and their families.”

Bright Heart wins 2020 nasen Award
Co-founders Simon and Ryan with the nasen 2020 award for Co-Production with Children and Young People and their Families.

Bright Heart’s success working with families

Three examples of our work with families were cited for consideration by nasen in support of Bright Heart’s nomination:

Bright Heart is very appreciative of the families that offered their time to share their positive experiences of working with us as part of the awards adjudication process.

Learn more about Bright Heart’s award-winning tuition

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to discuss your tuition needs. Learn how one of our experienced, caring tutors could be the perfect fit for your child. We specialise in helping students with SEN, those that have fallen behind at school (possibly lacking confidence or motivation) and those being homeschooled. We currently offer a 10% discount on all online tuition due to COVID-19.

Please have a look at our Facebook page for current events, or feel free to get in touch directly to chat.


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5 ways to ease anxiety in your child in 2020

Mother and son with online learning

Handling anxiety is best done by bringing it out into the open. Here are some tips to consider for your child.                                     

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

Handling anxiety is best done by bringing it out into the open. Here are some tips to consider for your child.

5 ways to help ease anxiety in your child in 2020

It’s no secret that this year has raised anxiety levels for parents and children alike. The uncertainty around schooling under COVID-19 has been challenging. This has meant different methods of learning
as well as social behaviour. For children with special educational needs, change can be especially hard to navigate. We explore five different ways to ease or reduce anxiety for your child.

1. Talk about it (and keep talking about it)

If your child is prone to anxiety or experiencing heightened levels of anxiety, try to talk to them about it.  Remind them that the ‘new normal’ is not the way things will be forever. Discuss fun memories they’ve had socialising at school before COVID-19 and share little stories you have of them and their friends. This can ignite pleasant memories and remind your child of how fun it can be to interact with others. Older children will have different needs but communication with them is still vital.

2. Alert the teacher

You may also consider contacting your child’s teacher and letting them know that your child is experiencing anxiety. This helps provide context for any unusual behaviour your child may present in the school setting. The teacher will also be better able to offer additional support and understanding to your child.  

3. Involve their friends

Additionally, encourage your child to keep in touch with their friends over video calls. When they’re little, think about setting up an online game for them to play together. That way they’ll be playing with their friends even if they aren’t in the same room. This goes a long way to making the transition from social distancing to physical socialising (and the resulting anxiety) less daunting.

Mother and son with online learning
Maintaining social contact when at home is much easier these days

4. Be mindful to stick to a predictable routine

Reinforcing stability is crucial to helping your child feel less overwhelmed. Routine can be useful in creating predictability and a sense of calm for them. Stick to regular hours for bedtime, recreation and other routine activities such as homework or study and meal times. Focus on healthy eating free from excess sugar or other stimulants.

5. Keep things positive

A positive mindset is powerful. Talk about the good things at school and within their friendship circles and how they’re taking the first small steps towards getting back to the life we all once enjoyed.  Sometimes there is unhelpful talk in the media which can affect children’s anxiety levels. For younger children, possibly consider turning off the TV when such conversations are taking place. Remind your child that home and family are a constant source of support and safety. Allow them to feel safe in the knowledge that they can always rely on you for stability and encouragement.

Help is available

Remind your child that trusted friends and other role models, such as teachers and tutors are also there for them to lean on.

Feel free to get in touch to see how we can help. Our tutors are aware of the effects of anxiety and how it can influence learning. We offer an obligation-free consultation which will assist in guiding you towards the ideal tutor for your child in terms of personality and educational needs. Experience the Bright Heart Approach today!

What has been your experience as a parent of a child with anxiety? We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly to chat.


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Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective​

nasen Connect September 2020

A director discusses tutoring under lockdown in an article published in nasen Connect magazine Sep 20.               

John Salmon director

John Salmon

Director John Salmon, M. Ed,  examines how tutoring evolved during lockdown and how tutees responded.

nasen Connect magazine (Sep 20)

John Salmon, director at Bright Heart Education, reflects on how support for tutees had to be adapted during lockdown and how tutees responded to a new way of working. This article was published in the nasen Connect September 2020 edition.

nasen Connect September 2020
nasen Connect is distributed to schools, SENCos and parents across England

Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective

Unlike schools, tutoring agencies arguably experience closer contact with the everyday reality of many households as they directly partake in both the academic and emotional vicissitudes of families. Our first-hand knowledge has shown that adapting to online schooling has been an onerous challenge for families (as well as schools), but at the same time it has offered a more personalised learning opportunity for many
students, especially those with SEN.

As a tutoring agency that supports many students with SEN, we have naturally been concerned about the emotional and academic impact of lockdown. Lately, we have received a number of calls for help from concerned parents, which shared a common pattern: their child had lost interest in writing, reading and numeracy and no longer tried to fulfil school expectations. Parents reported unattainable assignments
amidst mounting levels of frustration, anxiety and disengagement. The lack of structure left children fending for themselves, with minimal assistance, save for that provided by their parents – who cannot be expected to play the role of trained teachers. Traditionally, our agency had focused on in-person tuition, so we had to transition to online tutoring to adapt to the lockdown.

For some, the physical presence of a facilitator was necessary, but many tutees with SEN embraced online sessions and realised that, with the right guidance and nurturing support, much could be gained. Far from being emotionally affected by the lack of traditional schooling, many felt perfectly at home (no pun intended) with the new situation, as social interaction at school was often a cause of anxiety.

Case study

One such case was a Year 7 tutee with ADHD, who was not affected by feelings of isolation, but by lack of motivation when faced with the sudden prospect of doing all his work without the solid support system provided by school. Worse still, he was being asked to complete assignments using the very electronic devices that distracted him in the first place. Overstimulation led to distraction, which in turn led to frustration and eventually refusal to work.

Our adaptation to remote learning with him proved to be fruitful. First and foremost, as a student with ADHD he was less prone to distractions at home, as opposed to the myriad of stimuli in a school setting. Restricted internet access was necessary, but technology allowed for better differentiation, by addressing individual learning events; one specific topic could be delivered in multiple ways and be adapted to his unique style. Thus, a multimedia history session could include videos, downloadable materials, audio and interactive games. He was also able to work at his own pace, being free to view lessons and materials at his convenience, allowing for maximum flexibility. Since deadlines were relaxed, he had extra time to complete tasks. Additionally, his workspace was adapted to suit his preferences, creating an environment conducive to learning. 

He liked technology because he found it more impersonal and nonthreatening. There were no peers there to judge him, no teachers there to pressure him with impending deadlines. He dreaded the idea of completing mammoth projects under severe time constraints, but smaller chunks no longer seemed insurmountable. His innate curiosity for technology developed into a learning opportunity, as he experimented with the different features in PowerPoint, Word or Google Drive, mastering the subject matter in the process. He learned to be less dependent on text-based learning when using audio books and videos online and felt at ease with no one watching over his shoulder. 

A way forward

This experience has taught us that the value of direct support from well-qualified teachers is irreplaceable. But we also know that online learning is here to stay, not only for children who are home schooled full time, but also as an integral part of school life.

The technology industry takes giant leaps much faster than most industries, to the point where it permeates all human activity, including education. Lockdown prompted an impromptu trial for teachers, tutors, parents and students and learning from this can surely guide us when moving forward, but not by simply replicating lessons in the shape of online lessons, with ensuing workloads that must be completed by students autonomously. When managed appropriately and combined with optimal support in the hands of capable, well-trained instructors, applying technology in a student-centred learning environment can bring forth a wealth of benefits, including for those with SEN, as it provides the flexibility and sense of ownership that can be lacking in traditional classrooms. However, a balance must be struck between digital and screen-free activities and independent and teacher led activities.

With the right support, combining pedagogical and technological expertise, students with SEN can meet learning targets in nonthreatening, customised environments.

Contact us

If this article rings true for you, then please get in touch and let us know how best we can help.


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GCSE and A Level Exams: Your Questions Answered

studying for the GCSE exams

We examine A level, GCSE and Btec results in England for the 2019/20 academic year and their impact.   

 
Bright Heart

Bright Heart

We consider questions about the exam results in 2020 and consequences for 2021 exams.

GCSE and A-level Exams: Your Questions Answered

All aspects of our lives under the COVID-19 pandemic have been marked by uncertainty. Education has been hit particularly hard.  School closures have had detrimental effects on learning and mental health for most families in England. The recent announcement of exam results was no smoother. In this blog, we discuss A level, GCSE and Btec results in England for the 2019/20 academic year. This is of particular importance for A Level students, as their university places depend on their grades (UCAS points).

studying for the GCSE exams
It has not been an easy time for students, especially those who were preparing for a final exam.

What role does Ofqual play in regulating grades and why do they intervene?

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) regulates qualifications, exams and tests in England.  They designed a system to regulate teachers’ predicted grades under the premise that teachers tend to overestimate performance. Grades are also meant to be consistent with previous years’ data.   

It is human nature to be optimistic about student progress. Teachers expect their students’ results to improve by the end of each school year when working under normal conditions. However, research shows that teachers’ predictions are usually generous. A recent analysis of schools’ predicted GCSE grades by FFT Education Datalab found that the average grade predicted by teachers in England in 2020 was higher than the average grade in 2019 in every subject.  Last year, only 20% of students applying to university met or exceeded their predicted grades.

Ofqual’s algorithm used a three-prong system. It included historic results of pupils at each school, prior student attainment, and statistical expectations of grades for each subject. The objective was to ensure that results were in line with those from the previous year.

Why were the initial results so controversial?

Controversy arose well before A level results were issued in England on Thursday, 13th August. The Scottish precedent, using the same regulatory framework as in England, featured a deluge of complaints from students, parents, teachers and head teachers. This prompted a government retraction with Nicola Sturgeon apologising to thousands of students and promising to amend grades to reflect teacher predictions.

In England, as expected, there was a similar reaction.  Many students were disheartened to find that 39% of predicted grades had been lowered, some by more than one grade.

Parents and students complained that the system did not do justice to the efforts of many who had worked hard throughout the year, but had been deprived of formal education during lockdown.   They claimed that many brilliant students would see their grades lowered simply because they came from poorly performing schools, against the better judgement of their teachers. This was called a ‘postcode lottery’. It raised the question, should a weak student in a class, who worked hard and was expected to pass, be failed simply due to the school history?

What was the government’s response to the controversy and how did people react?

Just before the A-level results were released on Thursday, 13th August, the government made rapid changes to the grading system. This was an effort to appease potential complaints, in what they described as a ‘triple lock’. Students could opt for the highest of three different assessments: their estimated grade, the result of a mock exam (as part of an appeal), or sitting an exam in October.

This measure brought a fresh surge of vitriol.  Head teachers in England referred to this last-minute arrangement by the government  as a ‘shambles’. The move was also criticised by the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, who condemned it as a ‘complete fiasco’ and asked to have it scrapped.  Critics argued that decisions should have been made and communicated in good time, mock exams are not standardised and lowering grades based on school performance is discriminatory against pupils from deprived areas.

There were many protests from students throughout the country. They deemed it unfair to have their grades brought down based on Ofqual’s algorithm and demanded a retraction like that of the Scottish government.  Many also asked for appeal fees to be waived.  However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson initially refused to use teachers’ predicted grades as final grades in England. Boris Johnson had already stated that the system was ‘robust’ and ‘dependable’.

The government U-turn

On Monday, 17th August, the government caved in to political and student pressure. Students (A Level and GCSE) were awarded grades estimated by their teachers (Centre Assessed Grade or CAG), unless the algorithm grades were higher. Gavin Williamson said he was “incredibly sorry for the distress” caused to pupils after having to make this U-turn.

Btec results were unfortunately pulled at the last minute on the 20th of August. This was as they would also use a CAG to be in line with the GCSE and A Level adjustment.

The political fallout continued with the head of Ofqual, Sally Collier, resigning. A DfE senior civil servant, Jonathan Slater, was sacked over the ‘algorithm’.

GCSE and A Level results

For the 500,000 GCSE students, 79 % achieved a pass which is up from 70 % in 2019.  More than 27 % of students received a grade 7 or above, which is equivalent to A or A*. By comparison, 21 % of students achieved grade 7 or higher in 2019, which was the highest proportion since 2015. This means that more pupils will be eligible to study difficult subjects at A Level. A Level results can be seen below:

A Level results 2020
Comparison of A and A* for 2017 to 2020 (all ages)
A Level Results
Average number of A Levels per student, 2017 to 2020
A Level exam results infographic
Showing the relationship of this year's CAG to final grades, 2017 to 2020

What’s next for students wishing to attend university?

Once a university makes an unconditional offer it is contractually required to honour this commitment, unless the degree is cancelled.  It remains to be seen how universities will handle the surge of applicants who can now claim a place. This means some eligible students with recalculated grades will have to defer to next year. There are also many students (17 % estimated in this Guardian article) choosing to defer as they do not wish for their first year of studies to be online, leading to a possible backlog in 2021.

As an example with Cambridge University:

What about GCSE and A Level exam resits?

Due to the recent acceptance of CAGs for students, there is likely to be limited demand for exam resits. However, lockdown was disruptive for students and there may be some who would like to take a resit if their CAG was disappointing.

For students wishing to take ‘resit’ A-level exams, exams run from 5 October to 23 October. The deadline for entries is 4 September. Students will not have to pay for these resits and schools will be able to claim this expense from the government. These results will be announced on 17 December. Any student who is unhappy with their results may still appeal as usual. See A Level exam board timetable links below:

GCSE resits will take place from 2 November to 23 November. The deadline for entries is 4 October for English Language and Mathematics. The deadline for all other subjects is 18 September. GCSE results for English Language, Functional Skills, AQA Certificate and Level 3 Extended Project is 14 January 2021. All other GCSE exams results will be out on 11 February 2021.

For GCSE exam board timetables please see the following links:

What changes will there be for GCSEs and A Levels in 2021?

Concerns were raised about the lockdown challenges for certain students. These include students with no home access to the internet or to a computer, those with caring responsibilities, those most vulnerable to coronavirus and students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

In light of this, various changes have been proposed for GCSE exams for 2021. These changes are to address concerns that pupils may have missed out on learning. The changes also enable certain assessments to go ahead in a way that allows for maximum social distancing, e.g. by reducing the need for group performances. A full outline of GCSE/A Level changes can be read online here, with a subject by subject summary provided by Schools Week.

Recently, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Select Committee, said there was only a “50:50” chance of A-level and GCSE exams taking place next summer. Labour have also raised concerns with Shadow Education Secretary saying students starting Y11 and Y13 had a “mountain to climb”. They propose that exams should be pushed back to mid-summer (late July) to allow more catch up time.

Gavin Williamson has recently said that Ofqual is working with the education sector to decide about a potential short delay to the 2021 exam timetable.

What about Btec exams?

Students began receiving their revised exam results from Pearson on 25 August. These were adjusted in line with the GCSE and A Level changes made earlier.

How can Bright Heart help?

We recognise that it has been a frustrating and anxious time for students. We are helping students with revision tutoring sessions for Btec, GCSEs and A Levels. Our tutors will do their utmost to help students taking resits get ready in time. Our tutors are also working hard to help students taking 2021 exams catch-up, following a most disruptive year. Please get in touch for your free consultation and find out how our nurturing approach could be perfect for your child.

What has been your experience with the exam results process? We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly to chat.


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Having a SEN-friendly Summer in London during COVID-19

We look at summer activities for children and young adults with autism, learning disabilities and other special educational needs.

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Bright Heart

Enjoy this selection of SEN-friendly activities for this Summer in London.

Having a SEN-friendly Summer in London
during COVID-19

Finding SEN-friendly activities for summer for children and young adults with autism, learning disabilities and other special educational needs (SEN) in and around London can be a challenge. During the pandemic this is even trickier than usual. We have done a round-up on some of the events and outings that you may still enjoy at this time with your family. Here is a selection of our favourites:

Online Summer School

Song, laughter and dance are available through the Mousetrap Theatre Projects' Online Summer School.

Sing, dance, and laugh your way with your children by participating in theatre and dance-themed #EveryHomeATheatre challenges from Mousetrap Theatre Projects. Revisit past challenges or join their Online Summer School here. There are 90-minute drama workshops available on Zoom daily.  Age groups from 7 to 19 are catered for.

A SEN-friendly Cinema Outing – because it’s always better on the big screen!

Autism-friendly outings for the whole family at the Odeon Cinema are a must-do.

The Autism Friendly Screenings at Odeon Cinema are ideal for families with a child with special educational needs. Here you can all enjoy a film in an environment designed for people with Asperger’s Syndrome or who are on the autism spectrum. Low lights are left on inside the auditorium during the film and the soundtrack is quieter than it would be in a regular film screening. Another difference is that there are no trailers screened before the main film at AFS screenings.  Audience members are also not restricted from moving around, making a noise or taking a break in the middle of the film screening. Some Odeon cinemas reopened on the 4th of July and protocols are in place to ensure that they offer a safe cinema experience. Enquire on their website

Museum of London – Listen and Learn from Home

Find some 'screen-free' activities for your child to enjoy while the Listen and Learn at Home from the Museum of London.

Outings may provide relief from cabin-fever but some of you may feel more comfortable with stay-home practices at the moment. However, you can still have enjoyable cultural experiences with the family. The Museum of London is always a wonderful outing in this regard. During the pandemic, the museum has made a number of virtual tours and other activities available.  You might feel encouraged to know that some of these are also ‘screen-free’.  Find out more here.

SEN-friendly learning with 3D objects

Learning in 3D for students with SEN is available at the Museum of London

Also at the Museum of London, it is possible for students with learning difficulties to still get up close and personal with objects in 3D.  A range of 3D objects with resources designed specifically for students with special educational needs and disabilities is available

Historic Royal Palaces

Learning about history can be fun with the free resources available from Historic Royal Palaces.

For lots of ideas and resources online to help your children continue exploring history and the wider world without having to step outside the front door during the summer can be found here.

These five top history resources will keep your kids learning AND smiling while you’re staying home together. Parental participation is optional.  

SEN-Friendly Outdoor Wild Play

Outdoor wild play can be enjoyed by a variety of ages and is especially helpful for children with special educational needs.

Allowing your child to participate in outdoor activities such as these outdoor games, woodland crafts, survival skills (including shelter-building and tracking among others), have been shown to be helpful for a variety of special needs, including:

The team at Outdoor Wild Play welcomes children with special needs to their sessions. They have a strict COVID-19 protocol in place for health and safety reasons. Contact them directly to discuss which venues are available and to answer any further questions you may have.

What has been your experience as a parent of a child with SEN? We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly to chat.


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Supporting Parents of Children with SEN

Parenting is not always easy and lockdown has added to the challenges. We look at some SEN support available.

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Bright Heart

Community support is available for parents. It helps to share challenges and to support each other.

Supporting Parents of Children with SEN

Parenting is not always easy and lockdown has certainly added to the challenges. Many parents are finding it a struggle to balance work, their children’s homeschooling and the need to make some time for themselves. This can be especially difficult when you have a child with special needs. Parents of children with SEN are therefore sometimes in need of additional support.

Help is at hand. We’ve done a short round up on some options available.

For Parents

Support is available in the community for parents of a child with special needs.

For Dads

We recognise that dads are not always the first person in the family to reach out for help. With this in mind, we have included some options aimed specifically at dads.

There are many dads in similar situations. Connecting and sharing helps.

Giving back to the community

Being able to lean on the expertise, experience and resources of others who work with children with special needs and their families can make a real difference.  You may find you need a combination of different types of support, from therapy or counselling, to familial support for practical care-giving, to educational support from occupational therapists or tutors.

As you progress and gain a sense of feeling supported from within your community, don’t lose sight of how you initially felt before you received the help you needed.  Try to find ways to give back where you can. To help manage the pressures of special needs parenting, we should be willing to reach out and accept help. We should also be prepared to offer it.  It is in community that we can make progress, knowing that we don’t journey alone.

You may find your community within a Facebook Group you belong to, a book club, a church or sports club, your family circle or a non-profit organisation you’ve dealt with.

Don't hesitate to get help for yourself or child should you feel it's needed

What has been your experience as a parent of a child with SEN? We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly to chat.


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