Wednesday 5 September 2012

GCSE scandal latest: NUT meets with Ofqual

Following the refusal of Ofqual to agree to demands from the NUT and others to regrade this June's GCSE English results, NUT National Officers met Ofqual today.

The NUT Executive will be discussing the NUT's ongoing campaign to demand a regrade and an independent inquiry into the GCSE scandal at meetings later this week.

Pasted below is today's NUT national press release and a summary of some of the key points that have been prepared for Executive members by the NUT's  Education and Equalities Department:

"Commenting on the NUT’s meeting today with Ofqual to consider the evidence base of its decisions taken on this year’s GCSEs, Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“The NUT is very pleased that Ofqual has drawn to the attention of both the Education Secretary and Ofsted their concerns that if they are to meet their statutory responsibility of maintaining standards by ‘stabilising results’ then that has consequences for the way schools are assessed. This highlights the inherent contradiction in the Government’s policies on examination standards as they tell Ofqual not to let overall results go up, while at the same time telling schools they must reach a new 40% floor target of A*-C grades which obviously requires overall results to increase.

“Schools, teachers and most of all pupils are caught up in the middle of this and have suffered the serious consequences of such incoherent policies. Schools and pupils need to know where they stand. To attempt to work towards goals which can change significantly half way through a school year is ridiculous and totally unfair.

“We will be seeking urgent meetings with the Education Secretary and Ofsted to talk about these contradictory policies. The NUT will be continuing to press, alongside NAHT and ASCL, for an independent inquiry and a regrading, not resits, of this year’s English GCSEs.”

Some key points to consider:
  • Exam boards have been under pressure from Michael Gove who wants an end to decades of ‘grade inflation’ in GCSEs. An estimated 10,000 fewer teenagers achieved at least a grade C in the subject. School floor targets were raised to 40 per cent this year. Schools will be judged as underperforming and subject to merger or closure if fewer than 40 per cent of pupils achieve at least five good GSCE passes, including Maths and English. Gove plans to move the target to 50 per cent by 2015. At the last count, there were 216 schools below the previous floor target of 35 per cent. Hundreds more schools could miss the 40 per cent this year. Some of the academies themselves have missed the target. 
  • The NUT believes that a close reading of Ofqual’s interim report reveals that the GCSEs fiasco is actually about the rationing of education. Despite the fact that schools (and students) are working harder to get at least a C and despite the fact that this is “so important to students’ future”, Ofqual will not allow more students to get C or above. This rationing of education is a return to the days where it was said that there is a natural ability that children are born with and there is nothing that can be done about it. Combined with the abolition of the EMA, the trebling of tuition fees and one million youth unemployed, this is the biggest attack on working class ambition for generations.
  • In its report, Ofqual glosses over the 1.5 per cent drop in the number of children getting a grade C or above as ‘in line with expectations’ and claims that ‘this is not the issue’!
  • Ofqual claims that it has a more sophisticated approach than ‘norm referencing’ (page 8) which would at least have resulted in the same proportion of children getting C and above as last year. It calls its new approach ‘comparable outcomes’ and claims it ‘produces similar results year-on-year’ if the students have similar abilities each year. It says, “Before setting the grade boundaries, examiners use data on the prior attainments of the cohort of students to check the outcomes” (page 31). The provisional GCSE results are compared with prior attainment for matched candidates, that is, those for whom there are known Key Stage 2 results (page 10). And this year, it says there were 23,000 fewer students from independent and selective schools (page 10). So they adjusted the grade boundaries up to compensate!
  • This is the explanation provided as to why Ofqual set the boundaries such that 10,000 fewer students got a grade C confounding the expectations of experienced teachers who had spent two years preparing children for the exams. Ofqual is seriously setting the boundaries for allowed grades at the end of secondary school based on the grades children got at the end of primary school. This begs the question as to the purpose of secondary education.
  • The Government is forever, incorrectly, attacking teachers for a culture of low expectations and for using poverty as an excuse - but here is an independent examination Regulator at the behest of the Secretary of State putting a defined cap on achievement.
  • This scandal should lead to much deeper thinking about how we judge schools and assess pupils. The very high stakes system of league tables and exams at 16 isn't used in many other high performing education systems. There is an urgent need for an open and honest debate about what exams and education are for.

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