A teaching colleague of mine joked this year that with the new English GCSEs predictions should be rebranded as ‘allegations’ such is the ire they cause students and parents. Today my department found out whether any of our grade allegations were true and we were pleasantly surprised to find that despite the massive increase in difficulty in the exam that we had actually improved our results by 12%, taking our Grade 9-4 results up to a glorious 92% (that’s old money A*-C). A great day.
What parents might regret- the fuss over ‘wrong’ grades
The press seems geared to throw a lot of blame at the exam boards this year amongst misleading reports that the reliability of marking is going to decrease. This isn’t true. The reliability of marking won’t decrease (it isn’t amazing anyway) the number of grade boundaries has increased. This means the impact of low reliability in marking has an increased chance of changing the grade of an individual pupil. This has led to the hilariously terrible advice that if your student doesn’t get a Grade 9 in English, “then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to order their paper from the exam boards and have a look yourself” which ignores the key fact that low levels of reliability mean you are more likely to go down a grade as well as up. Good luck to all those parents who are going to grab the mark scheme for the English exam paper and try to work out what grade their child should have got…
What examiners might regret- terrible advice
This fuss over the grading system needs to be kept in the context of the quality of advice being given by examiners. They are always very specific about what they don’t want to see and find it easy to pick apart common mistakes that students make. However, when you ask for a more specific explanation of what they are actually looking for you get responses like “we would hope for something a bit clearer or a bit more perceptive”, which is hilariously vague and unenlightening. This feeds negativity into the feedback system- teachers get good at telling students what not to do, but struggle to express what they should be doing. Hopefully this will change.
What teachers might regret – the high stakes accountability drama
Teachers have been pre-emptive in defending themselves against a set of terrible results. I tweeted earlier this week about why this isn’t the right approach. Teachers often conflate the critique of the impact that high stakes accountability has on schools as a whole with their own wishes not to be held account for what goes on in their own classrooms. The former generates perverse incentives and gaming from leadership, the latter is an important protection against teachers who year on year fail their classes. It is clearly bad for borderline SEND pupils to be mysteriously dropping of school rolls in Year 11 (I am immensely proud to work in a school that doesn’t do any of that and still succeeds.) It is not clearly bad for a teacher whose classes consistently underperform (and I’m not talking about student outliers that can be explained by other data such as attendance) expected outcomes to be challenged.
Anyway, grade boundaries are set in advance and the guinea pig cohorts in reformed GCSEs are protected by the Ofqual ‘ethical imperative’; the Maths pass rate is actually up this year, so teachers need to remember- if you don’t want to get blamed when it goes pear-shaped, you can’t take the credit when it goes surprisingly well.
What does any of this actually tell us?
Talking of reliability, the most reliable way to dramatically increasing your headline results as a school is to dramatically alter the students taking the exam. This the best explanation of volatility in average results across schools so really headline figures today won’t tell us anything about how good individual schools are even though they will be used to make sweeping judgements for the next academic year.