The students at the Durham school "most affected" by the RAAC crisis are expected to underperform in their exams this summer if not granted special consideration, a new report has found.

St Leonard's Catholic School, in Durham City, has been reported to be the "most affected" by the crumbling concrete scandal, as it was one of only two secondary schools in England that were required to close completely. 

Now, education experts have said that grades achieved in GCSE and A Level exams this summer should be bumped by up to 10 per cent. 

Currently, children are being educated in temporary classrooms, in sports halls, and in Ushaw College, as much of St Leonard's requires rebuilding following the discovery of decaying RAAC and asbestos. 

The Northern Echo: St Leonard's School in Durham is dealing with asbestos as well as RAAC

RAAC-fuelled disruption is expected at the Durham City school for years to come, with some predictions estimating that it will only fully reopen in 2026. Despite this, pupils are expected to take exams in summer 2024 as normal.

Now, researchers from Durham University have said that grades should be inflated by up to 10 per cent in exams this summer,  after the whole school has faced "exceptionally disruptive circumstances."

Read more about the situation at St Leonard's here: 

So far, parents at St Leonard's, regularly one of the top-performing state schools for exam results in the North East, have been told that teacher-assessed grades will not be accepted, despite the trust lobbying for special considerations in the wake of the RAAC issue.

The school has requested that the Secretary of State for Education direct Ofqual to look into the impact of RAAC at St Leonard's using Durham University's report, and appropriate special considerations for students taking formal examinations in the summer of 2024 are proposed.

Durham City MP Mary Kelly Foy has also called on the Government to make special considerations for impacted pupils, calling it "incomprehensible" that "reasonable adjustments" are yet to be made. 

The report, by Professors Stephen Gorard and Nadia Siddiqui from Durham University's Department of Education, was commissioned by the school to support their case for special consideration for their students. 

Nick Hurn OBE, the CEO of Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, has said that the Department for Education's position that students will not receive additional consideration outside of the framework is "not credible, reasonable, or just."

He said: "Now we have irrefutable evidence that our children’s exam chances have been severely affected by this situation caused by the RAAC. This is a really severe situation and way beyond what any normal school would ever have to deal with.

"Professor Stephen suggests in his report that 10 per cent would be the least we could expect, particularly on specialist subjects where students have had limited access to specialist teaching facilities."

The professors wrote: "Students in this school specifically have faced exceptional and disruptive circumstances for the Autumn term and these will continue for the rest of the year."

These exceptional circumstances include reduced lesson time and quality, specialist lessons that the school is no longer able to run, and increased teacher and student stress that have "made school life harder for all," with an "inevitable compromise in the quality of teaching, learning and pastoral care."

Reportedly, both staff and students have left St Leonard's because of the RAAC crisis and the reputational damage it has done to the school. 

The report added: "The lost learning of the entire exam cohort for KS4 and KS5 should be compensated for in some way. None of this disruption is the fault of the students, and it seems reasonable that their futures should be protected by a one-off decision for this year.

"The main concern of pupils (and staff) is that their academic performance will be judged as though their schooling was normal, without accounting for the challenges they have experienced and will continue to experience for the foreseeable future." 

Pupils have expressed how the worry about exams, and grief at the loss of their school experience so shortly after the disruption of the pandemic, is impacting their mental health and capacity to learn. 

Many feel they have "waved goodbye" to the grades that could ensure top university places and bright futures. 

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MP Ms Kelly Foy said: "The report produced by Durham University has laid bare to government ministers just how incomprehensible it is that, after 17 weeks of disruption to their education, pupils at Leonard’s are expected to sit their upcoming exams without any reasonable adjustments.

"The inability of the DfE, Ofqual and examinations boards to grasp the severity of this situation, despite warnings from the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, school leadership, families and myself is a catastrophic failure of all of those involved in making decisions thus far.

“Children and young people in Durham matter as much as those in Essex, some of whom had temporary schools completed within 6 weeks. Ministers in Westminster may think that this issue has gone away because Durham is so far away from London, but I will fight this until the very end.

“The government can choose to work with me to resolve this once and for all or they can choose to abandon entire cohorts of children in Durham.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The safety of staff and pupils is paramount, and we have been working at pace with schools, including St Leonards, to identify Raac and minimise disruption to pupils’ education.

“Alongside Ofqual we have worked with awarding organisations to help facilitate discussions with affected schools. We have asked awarding organisations to, where possible, agree longer extensions for coursework and non-examined assessment so that schools have as much time as possible to complete this important part of pupils’ learning and qualifications.”