December 7 2013 Latest news:
Friday, August 23, 2013
With yesterday’s overall fall in GCSE results masking variation between the region’s schools, education correspondent Martin George talks to headteachers about the system.
For thousands of teenagers, it was a day of high emotion as they opened the envelopes whose contents would help decide the next stage of their lives.
But behind the individual tales of achievement and disappointment, a record fall in overall grades saw some call for an overhaul of an “unfair” system where this year’s grades could not be compared with previous years, while others heralded a restoration of confidence in GCSEs.
Norfolk County Council said 54pc of students in the county reached the gold standard of at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and maths, a 1.6 percentage point drop on last year.
Nationally, a 1.3 percentage point fall was partly attributed to tactics increasingly used by schools to boost their league table positions, including students taking exams a year early, sitting what some teachers said were “easier” international GCSE qualifications, and entering the same subject for multiple exam boards.
The proportion of grades C and above in science fell by 7.6 percentage points after the exam regulator Ofqual brought in harder, revamped syllabuses.
While many Norfolk students yesterday celebrated outstanding achievement, more schools saw their key results fall than rise.
Two Norwich academy schools, the Open Academy and City Academy Norwich, were among seven schools in the region to fall below the government’s floor standard of more than 40pc of students achieving five GCSEs at grade A*-C, including English and maths. They are deemed to be failing, and could face intervention.
The Hewett School in Norwich saw its proportion of students achieving the key measure fall from 51pc to 42pc, and associate headteacher Rob Anthony said 10 students were three marks off a C in English, and would have achieved that key grade if the grade boundary had not been raised this year.
He said schools would continue to use tactics partly blamed for yesterday’s national fall because of pressure from the government’s floor standard, league tables and Ofsted inspections.
He said: “The problem with the system is it’s become far too pressured. If you are a headteacher and your school drops below the floor target you get visited by the Department for Education who say you are going to be turned into an academy. The governing body gets sacked and the headteacher can be sacked. You would be stupid if you were not trying to find a way to ensure you got significantly over the floor target every year.”
Although the government is planning to remove the floor standard, in order to stop schools concentrating on borderline C students, a report published by the CentreForum think tank yesterday said its proposals to adopt an alternative set threshold for English and maths would still see schools try to game the system.
Ian Clayton, headteacher at Thorpe St Andrew High School, which saw a rise in students gaining five GCSEs at A*-C, including English and maths, said tinkering with the exam system meant it now needed a radical overhaul.
He said he could understand tightening the top grades, but the C grade was something students would be judged on for a long time, and it was unfair to change it.
“A grade C this year is not a grade C next year”, he said. “If they changed the system completely and redefined what a C grade is and you had two years to teach towards that it could be a fair system, but it is not.
“It’s stopping youngsters getting to the next stage. In five years time employers will not say ‘That year they tinkered with it’.”
He called for a new system which still has English, maths and science at its core, but with broader choices, and more attention to educational philosophy and how children learn.
However, Rachel de Souza, executive principal of Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey, which saw 75pc of students reach the gold standard, said: “I think what’s going on here is an attempt to restore respect to the examination system. I don’t think we should go in for wholesale change.
“Employers understand what GCSEs are and they need to believe in them. It can’t be a devalued qualification. I think the tightening is bold, and politically risky, and timely.”
South West Norfolk MP and education minister Elizabeth Truss said she supported the exam regulator Ofqual’s tightening of boundaries.
She said: “What people want is GCSEs that they can put their trust in, and that’s why we have an independent regulator setting standards, rather than the quite rampant grade inflation where every year the results would go up, but in international comparisons students were not necessarily doing better.”
She added: “I don’t think it’s an option to have no league tables because it has been very successful in parents understanding, and students understanding, how schools are performing.”
She said the government is consulting on reforms to the system to take pressure off the C/D borderline, and was considering responses about whether thresholds should be retained in English and maths.
However, she said she did not think the pressure of accountability on schools forced them to try to game the system.