Today has seen huge interest in what appears to have happened to some GCSE grades this year, with most focus on English GCSE. It is now becoming clear that between January and June this year the exam boards, including the one which runs most of the English GCSEs, called AQA, moved the grade boundaries up by several marks, possibly as many as ten. So students who sat the exam, and did the controlled assessments, having been entered in January, got grades based on the old grade boundaries. Those who did what is essentially the same exam in June were graded on the new, much higher grade boundaries. There is a view, which I cannot substantiate, but which is being widely circulated, that the A*-C rate if you only take the June candidates is as low as 31% for the main AQA board.
Michael Gove has been on Sky TV today assuring the public that grades were not politically manipulated. This is somewhat disingenuous, as while he may not have personally set the boundaries for any given GCSE, he has certainly created political pressure to make GCSEs tougher. This is has been put into practice with English today in a way that is bungling and hugely detrimental to confidence in the validity of the exam.
As I said in the last blog, we do not object to a transparent and balanced review of GCSEs, and we support robust examinations. However, we do not support students in any given year group and in one subject only being harshly penalised because some of their peers who took the exam in January of the same year benefited from higher pass rates.
At Bennett, the impact is visible, but much less severe than at many schools. In English 90% still got A*-C and nearly a quarter A*-A. But this is lower than it should have been, and lower than mathematics (English and maths have performed roughly in line with each other in recent history) and we can easily identify students who have for example As in every other subject and B in English. This cannot be right, particularly when we recall that Ofsted only 2 months ago characterised our English teaching at GCSE as exceptional.
At other schools, especially where they have larger number aiming for just a C, the impact of this is quite devastating. I have spoken to heads today who are completely distraught because they have gone from, in one school nearby for example, 68% 5 A*-C including English and Maths to only 45%. That is a massive drop for any school and positively destructive for the life chances of its young people. And it does not reflect weaker teaching or lower performance than in other schools who were fortunate enought to enter their students in January. It makes a nonsense of any notion of fairness.
Newsnight on BBC2 are covering the issue tonight, and my colleague Joan McVittie who is President of the Association of School and College Leaders, will be interviewed.
We will certainly continue to pursue this issue over the weeks ahead, as much to get justice for our students as to establish a principle of fairness in the way in which examinations are graded. Individual students need take no action, but any parents who feel strongly about this are invited to let me know and I will ensure that their concerns are passed on to those responsible.