Thursday 22 August 2013

GCSE Results - Gove pulls up the ladder once again

Protesting against GCSE grade robbery last summer
After last year's angry response to unexpected changes in GCSE grade boundaries, this year Ofqual and the Examining Boards made sure they had issued plenty of advance warning about another cut in GCSE grades. However, that advance notice will be of little comfort to those students who are disappointed by the exam results that they receive today.

Results released by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) confirm small drops in the proportion of students receiving A* to C grades for English and Maths. In science subjects, where syllabuses have been changed for this year’s exams, the fall was from 60.7% A* to C grades last year right down to 53.1%.

This further tightening up of GCSE grades will inevitably penalise students, schools and teachers whose success is judged on these A* to C results. While, in pursuit of privatisation, Government insists that schools reach ever-higher GCSE results, the new policy of effectively maintaining fixed pass rates makes these targets almost impossible to achieve.

The numbers of 'early entries' - where Year 10 pupils are entered for GCSEs alongside Year 11s, together with increases in numbers taking humanities and foreign languages, are all a consequence of schools reacting to meet the latest Government demands. While an increase in entries in these subjects is welcome, it doesn't stem from a proper debate about the importance of a balanced curriculum, just schools 'playing the game' of meeting the latest changes in targets. So, for example, at the same time I know of several schools cutting back on teaching less -favoured subjects like technology.

The debate that will now open up again around the technicalities of grade boundaries and pass rates must not be allowed to hide the fundamental truth - that the Government no longer wants so many of our youngsters to succeed. Faced with a protracted economic crisis, big business no longer requires a widely educated workforce. So now it's time for Gove and Co. to draw up the ladder once again so that only a select few youngsters are able to succeed.

Students, parents and teachers must expose these attempts to rob the next generation of a decent future and campaign for properly-paid employment, training and educational opportunities for every youngster.

Finally, these results must also be a further warning to teachers about the dangers of performance-related-pay. It's absolutely clear that the results that teachers will be judged upon are open to all sorts of influences outside a teachers' control - including direct interference in GCSE pass rates.

National Association of Head Teachers' General Secretary, Russell Hobby ( has commented that: "A lot of us assumed that there was more objectivity to the grades people get. Exams are often held up as being this objective standard, but there's a lot of subjectivity in the marking and grading of exams. It's quite shocking.". However, that hasn't stopped the NAHT issuing model pay policies that recommend that teachers' pay could be determined by exactly such subjective decisions!

For example, how many of my science teaching colleagues ( and I'm yet to find out how my Year 11s have got on * ) will be penalised for a drop in GCSE grades that had been imposed in advance by Ofqual ?

NUT and NASUWT members need to respond to today's news by resolving to make an even more determined effort to build Autumn's programme of strike action against performance-pay and other Government attacks, and to go out and explain to parents why we are fighting for the future of their youngsters' education as well.

 * I know the results now - so congratulations to any of my students who might come across this post!

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