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GCSE English Fiasco, seconds out, Round 2!

It’s hard to believe it’s a year since Round 1 of the English GCSE fiasco. Is Round 2 about to kick off? Don’t be surprised if it does!

Will teachers and students be knocked out again?

Just to recap:

  • Accountability pressures from league tables etc led to lots of schools entering students for their GCSE English in January and/or July.
  • This skewed the January results and led to exam boards / Ofqual setting boundaries that made it a bit too easy to get a C grade in the January exam.
  • In July, exam boards / Ofqual realised their mistake and moved the grade boundaries for students that sat the exam in July. This made the headline C+ figure fit with Government expectations, but meant that students who sat the July exam sat an unfairly harder exam than those who sat it in January.
  • Thousands of schools and young people cried foul.
  • Results stood.
  • Ofqual & Gove announced changes to try and stop this happening in future. January results haven’t been released this year, they will be moderated in the Summer at the same time as the July entries. Going forward early entry is being squeezed out as an option. Controlled Assessments will be wound back in due course to alleviate alleged (but not to my knowledge, evidenced) cheating by teachers.

The impact of this is still being felt across the Secondary sector. Schools dropped below floor targets, I’m sure people directly or indirectly will have lost jobs. English departments with many years of experience were left questioning their knowledge of the curriculum, not quite sure what a Grade C student looked like any more.

The pressure on schools to get students through English and Maths at a ‘pass’ grade of C has not diminished. Moves to focus on levels of progress in the future are welcome but I don’t believe they will impact on the tendency for %C+ in English & Maths being the headline measure that schools are held to account with.

But it’s not just the pressure on schools, it’s also the pressure on young people. The constant rhetoric of students achieving ‘good’ GCSEs or ‘passing’ their GCSEs from Government and through the press means that it’s never been more important for learners to leave with a C in Maths and in English. Not having these grades puts them at a huge disadvantage at every possible next (and future) step of their education or employment.

So schools have been looking for ways to increase the number of learners getting this magic grade. Early entry, multiple entry, iGCSE entry or combinations of all three have taken place. Ofqual have been getting in early this year with warnings that this will skew results next week. This feels slightly ominous to me.

Many schools have looked to enter students for the International GCSE or iGCSE. Entries are up from 18,000 to 63,000 this year, including 20,000 late entries. The logic is clear, it’s seen as an ‘easier’ option, with clearer controlled assessment requirements, clearer exam questions and a more reliable structure. Some schools have switched entirely to the qualification, some have moved key cohorts to the qualification and some have entered students in addition to the normal English Language GCSE as a ‘second chance’.

The Independent have a sensationalist article claiming the ‘gamble’ has failed. It’s poorly thought out. Yes the percentage of students getting A* and C+ grades have fallen, but that fails to take into account the makeup of the population sitting the qualification this year. iGCSEs have historically been the preserve of Independent Schools (who have clearly been wise to it’s charms way before state schools). Talented, well supported learners who have been paying for very expensive educations tend to get pretty good results. The extra 45,000 entries this year are very different, almost all will be state school students, and in particular the majority of these will be C/D borderline students. Ring any bells? This is exactly what happened with the January GCSE entries last year.

We entered our borderline students for the iGCSE. They seem to have done incredibly well. Excitement will be reserved until all the results are in next week.

If lots of schools have entered borderline students for the iGCSE and if lots of them have done well then the next week could be interesting.

iGCSE results are out and set in stone now. Combined with the effects of multiple entries etc., they could positively influence the overall national figures for English C+ and 5A*-C with English & Maths. Which makes me nervous. Ofqual & Gove will not want to see any dramatic jumps in performance. The only other way to influence this would be to tamper with the grade boundaries for the normal English GCSE again. And they have form.

As long as the league tables and press / Government obsession with grade C’s remains, this merry go round will continue. Schools have to look for every opportunity to get the best figures they can, they would be letting the students down if they didn’t. We should of course be looking to give students a rounded education and a love of both English and Mathematics but that ignores the results driven culture that pervades every aspect of Britain today.

Image from Kikfoto on Flickr.

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