More than half a million teenagers have been allowed to leave school before the end of the academic year – despite grave concerns over months of lost learning during lockdown.
According to education campaigners, Year 11 pupils in most state secondary schools in England and Wales have not returned to class after half-term in May.
Normally, these pupils, aged 15 and 16, would be sitting GCSEs this month and be on 'study leave' in between exams.
But because formal exams have been replaced by teacher assessments, students could have remained in school to catch up on work missed during the pandemic.
According to education campaigners, Year 11 pupils in most state secondary schools in England and Wales have not returned to class after half-term in May (file photo)
Instead, head teachers called an early halt to the academic year, giving Year 11 more than six weeks off before the official end of the summer term.
Dr Julie Maxwell, of campaign group the Family Education Trust, said: 'It's very concerning that young people that age have been chucked out of school early.
'Without the safeguarding of school they could end up, through boredom, falling into activities such as underage drinking and drug taking.'
The move to send pupils home comes despite teachers, heads and unions complaining that the Government's £1.4 billion catch-up pot for pupils suffering from the disruption to their education was not enough, and critics said schools were squandering a golden opportunity to help teenagers recover.
'It smacks of double standards,' said Professor Alan Smithers, from Buckingham University.
'The schools are effectively ditching Year 11, who are arguably among the worst hit by the lockdowns, while at the same time demanding more money to help pupils catch up on what they have missed.'
Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: 'The majority of schools seem to have already halted learning for Year 11. The move is breathtaking in its selfishness.'
Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, said the sending home of Year 11 pupils was 'concerning', and the watchdog 'will want to know' how schools were using the remainder of the term to help Year 11 students get up to speed on the lessons they missed out on.
The action of many schools in England and Wales is in stark contrast to what is happening in Scotland, where the year group has been required to return to school after half-term.
A minority of head teachers have decided to keep their Year 11 pupils in school, saying education is not just about 'a set of grades'.
Other school bosses claim teachers' time has been diverted to assessing pupils, submitting GCSE grades to exam boards and creating banks of evidence to justify the grades.
Amanda Spielman (pictured), the head of Ofsted, said the sending home of Year 11 pupils was 'concerning', and the watchdog 'will want to know' how schools were using the remainder of the term to help Year 11 students get up to speed on the lessons they missed out on
But the deadline to pass grades to exam boards was on Friday – leaving five weeks before the end of term.
One mother accused her daughter's school of letting pupils down by allowing them to finish so early.
She said: 'They finished completely on May 24, despite missing months and months of school over their GCSE course, so what's all this about?' Another mother said her daughter 'did not have a clue what to do with herself'.
The Department for Education said: 'Many schools and colleges usually have a period of study leave for Year 11 and 13 students.
'In recognition of assessments being different this year, our guidance strongly encourages all schools and colleges to maximise opportunities during the summer term to support those students to progress to the next stage of their education, training or work.'