Ishmeet Sharma from Southall, London, said it had been a ‘very tough time’

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The pandemic has hit the poorest students hardest, leaving many disillusioned and fearing for their chances of reaching university.

A survey from the Social Mobility Foundation shows almost two years of changes to the exam system and sparse resources left many kids unable to catch up after months of disruption.

The SMF works with high-achieving youngsters, most of whom are on free school meals.

Of the 1,500 it polled, one third said they fear the pandemic had left them short of the grades they need for university.

Poorer kids have missed more school than wealthier counterparts and are less likely to have laptops, fast internet or a quiet study area.

Jack Butler, 17, from Essex has just finished his A-Levels
(Image: ©2021 Steve Bainbridge)

Some feel their hard work in the face of all that has not been recognised by a shambolic assessment system that left no room for appeal.

Under new rules introduced this year, all young people in the UK are being graded by teacher judgement.

But eight percent of those surveyed said they had already sat or were scheduled to sit exam condition tests, upon which their final grades would be based.

Sarah Atkinson, chief of the SMF, said the impact on the worst-off kids was a “real test for the Government’s commitment to levelling up”.

Umaimah Khandakar, 18, is from Walsall in the West Midlands
(Image: Dilantha Dissanayake / CATERS NEWS)

She said: “The pandemic has not affected this country equally and has hit young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest.

"Yet the appeals process does not account for this at all.”

Government stats show poorer pupils lost 2.2 months in reading at primary and secondary age, and 4.5 months in primary maths – up to a month more than richer kids.

The SMF wants ministers to let all Year 13 pupils repeat a year if their school agrees.

It also wants it made easier to appeal teacher grades and for kids to be allowed to take exams instead – free of charge – if they wish.

Jack Butler, 17, Romford said: “We went from five days a week in college to teaching yourself, trying to find resources. Teachers were finding their feet as well. We were in and out of lockdown.

The routine changed all the time – it was a nightmare. I wrote to the college and got 100 others to sign it, just to find what was happening.”

Umaimah Khandakar, 17, Walsall said: “I think a lot of us had academic burnout.

“My friends and I were researching it on the internet and we all came to the same conclusion that’s what had happened. As someone who has always prioritised her education, it was shocking.

“I was tired all the time and we had assessment after assessment.

“It was exhausting and the pressure was incredible.

“Those two years at sixth form, I was tired all the time.

“I just wanted it over with and I’d never felt like that before.”

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Ishmeet Samra, 18, Southall: “It’s been a very tough time. I had mitigating circumstances and, even though the school has reassured me, it’s stressful and causes a lot of worry as I don’t know whether they will be taken into account.

“I’m the first in my family to go to university. I’m worried my ability won’t be shown properly.”