Be­yond com­pare

The new sys­tem makes com­par­isons with pre­vi­ous years im­pos­si­ble – heads and gov­er­nors need to com­mu­ni­cate this, ar­gue Ge­off Bar­ton and Emma Knights

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - EDITORIAL -

GCSES are dif­fer­ent now – that mes­sage needs to be com­mu­ni­cated

IN CASE any­one wasn’t aware, this sum­mer’s ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults sea­son is go­ing to be “volatile”, es­pe­cially for GCSES.

How do we know? The chief reg­u­la­tor of Ofqual, Sally Col­lier, has said so. In a re­cent speech at an ex­am­i­na­tion sym­po­sium she warned that “in­di­vid­ual schools could ex­pe­ri­ence more vari­a­tion than nor­mal”.

We think it’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­one knows this – ev­ery­one, ex­cept stu­dents. For them, re­sults day this year should be what re­sults days every year re­ally ought to be – a cel­e­bra­tion of what, af­ter 11 or so years of school­ing, they have in­di­vid­u­ally achieved. This day should be a sym­bolic marker of the tran­si­tion from one phase of ed­u­ca­tion to the next stage of life. For most stu­dents and their teach­ers, any re­sults day should be one of joy.

That’s why our re­spec­tive or­gan­i­sa­tions wel­come Ms Col­lier’s can­dour and cau­tion. It’s im­por­tant that gov­er­nors, par­ents and the lo­cal me­dia un­der­stand that this year’s GCSE ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults can’t be com­pared neatly with those of pre­vi­ous years.

A fresh start was one of the main tenets be­hind Michael Gove’s de­ci­sion to call for a new suite of qual­i­fi­ca­tions with a 1-9 mark­ing sys­tem. The idea was to ratchet up stan­dards and to use a grad­ing sys­tem that made like-for­like com­par­isons with pre­vi­ous years im­pos­si­ble.

Whether we agree or not with that de­ci­sion, and es­pe­cially the re­sult­ing speed with which teach­ers and school lead­ers have had to work to im­ple­ment new syl­labuses, new schemes of work and new mark­ing sam­ples, this year’s GCSE re­sults day will mark the be­gin­ning of this new era.

And, as Ms Col­lier says, although the na­tional sta­bilis­ers of “com­pa­ra­ble out­comes” will hold the num­ber of new grade 4s at a sim­i­lar level to old grade Cs, there is likely to be con­sid­er­able volatil­ity within a range of sub­jects in a range of schools. In­deed, some schools are likely to see sig­nif­i­cant sur­prises in their re­sults. That’s why we want all gov­er­nors

and trustees to be aware of the changes. We echo the chief reg­u­la­tor’s “no knee-jerk re­ac­tions” mantra.

School lead­ers of­ten feel vul­ner­a­ble even in sta­ble times un­der the weight of ac­count­abil­ity, me­dia scru­tiny, and loom­ing Of­sted in­spec­tions. They know how much rests on any year’s re­sults.

We know that many head­teach­ers al­ready fear that some­thing like “foot­ball man­ager syn­drome” ex­ists – a lurk­ing worry that they might lose their jobs on the ba­sis of one set of re­sults.

Both our or­gan­i­sa­tions work to make sure this does not hap­pen. Gov­ern­ing boards are, af­ter all, sub­ject to em­ploy­ment law like every other em­ployer in the land. And that’s why we par­tic­u­larly wel­come this year’s clear pro­nounce­ments from Ofqual and Of­sted not to treat this as an or­di­nary exam year.

A new era of qual­i­fi­ca­tions

This sum­mer’s grades may or may not look like last sum­mer’s. Whether they do or not, we must keep say­ing loudly and bor­ingly that this is the be­gin­ning of a new sys­tem. The idea was quite ex­plic­itly to kick-start a new era with new qual­i­fi­ca­tions and new grad­ing.

Let’s make sure there is not a nar­ra­tive of chaos or con­fu­sion on re­sults day this year. Let’s make sure lo­cal me­dia are re­port­ing the base­line pass rate at grade 4 and, be­yond that, they sim­ply fo­cus on in­di­vid­ual case stud­ies of stu­dents at all lev­els, from all back­grounds. To­gether, we want to nudge par­ents and pupils to do the same.

So if the GCSE re­sults look great over­all, let’s cel­e­brate with­out smug­ness or hubris. And if they are dis­ap­point­ing, let’s not jump to con­clu­sions that it’s a fail­ure of man­age­ment, or a re­sult of poor teach­ing, or a sign that the school is on the slide.

We won’t know what’s hap­pened sta­tis­ti­cally un­til a rea­son­able and dis­pas­sion­ate post-mortem on re­sults has been held once the new term is un­der way. It can wait un­til stu­dents have gone home with their exam slips.

So as re­sults sea­son ap­proaches, it’s most def­i­nitely time to hold our nerve, and also to fo­cus on the only thing that mat­ters – the in­di­vid­ual suc­cesses of our stu­dents.

They, af­ter all, are the ones for whom these re­sults mat­ter. They are the peo­ple we should con­cen­trate on. Here’s to their suc­cess. Ge­off Bar­ton is gen­eral sec­re­tary of the As­so­ci­a­tion of School and Col­lege Lead­ers Emma Knights is chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional Gov­er­nance As­so­ci­a­tion

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