ASCL launches inquiry into system leaving pupils 'deflated'
The Association of Schools and Colleges has launched an inquiry into GCSE results which, the union claims, leaves pupils ‘deflated and uncertain’, Schools Week reports.
57% of pupils in state-funded schools didn’t reach the government’s ‘strong pass’ standard in English and maths – a grade 5. School performance is judged against this measure but it sends out a confusing message about the value of reaching a ‘standard’ grade 4 pass.
Dividing GCSEs into 'good' passes, 'standard' passes and 'strong' passes has been an insidious trend
When GCSEs began, all grades were passes. These ranged from basic Grade G to exceptional Grade A (A* was added later). Since then, some politician or other decided GCSE pass rates were a good way of ranking schools. But most pupils passed GCSEs. Time to change the goalposts and talk about 'good' passes.
Good passes imply bad ones; strong passes mean the rest are weak
But there's a downside to classifying passes in this way: 'good' passes imply 'bad' ones; ‘strong’ passes mean the rest are weak.
This undermines the philosophy behind the introduction of GCSEs: one exam accessible to all mainstream 16-year-olds which would show each pupil’s achievement on a seven-point scale. The only fail grade was a U – unclassified.
The battle against alleged grade inflation creates only losers
GCSEs were reformed, it was said, to tackle alleged grade inflation. But this presented the government with a quandary: how to recalibrate GCSE grades to reduce the proportion reaching higher grades while avoiding an outcry from parents and teachers when pupils who would previously have received higher grades received lower ones?
The answer? Introduce arbitrary standard and strong passes. But the consequence of this confusion is that anything less than a standard pass is… what exactly? A non-standard pass? A weak pass? Or just a plain fail?
The English education system lets down its pupils
No other nation has such high-stakes exams at 16. No other nation expects 16-year-olds to take so many exams. No other nation ranks schools on how their pupils perform at 16.
This excessive emphasis on GCSEs in England, something the OECD warned about in 2011, has negative consequences:
Moving towards graduation at 18 would relieve pressure
Moving towards graduation at 18 via multiple routes would relieve pressure at age 16. Sensible exam reform would have moved towards this goal.
Unfortunately, recent governments have valued the ability to rank schools over high quality education.