Gove has been tinkering with the future of schools and the future of students and what he has done is unforgiveable, as it has been done to fuel an ideological agenda, not with any real sense of improving outcomes. Geoff Barton, a head teacher with almost three decades of teaching experience behind him, wrote that
from 10 am yesterday I started to get messages from fellow headteachers across England to say that their English results were 10% or more below what they expected. They were asking whether I knew anything about problems with the marking. I didn’t. English results more than 10% below where we would expect them, and yet the same experienced team (including me) had been teaching GCSE English, with a series of tests, checks and mock exams through the year to monitor students’ progress - and all this in the same school that last week had achieved some of the best A-level results in the County.Pupils are carefully monitored throughout their school life now, with masses of data collected on their progress from a very young age. Teachers have become experts in estimating outcomes and, barring the odd few outliers, have a pretty good handle throughout the year on where they expect their pupils to finish. Any shift within the system therefore becomes obvious and this one is glaring. The key change has been in the boundary in marking controlled assessments to achieve a C grade in English, the commonest subject and one that is vital to the future of virtually all students.
Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders said: "The grade boundaries in English have been moved up, on the C/D borderline, and they've been moved up very substantially."This does bring into question the statement from Glenys Stacey, the head of OfQual, this morning, where she said
What we have done this year and indeed last year actually is to hold the line on standards steady so that if the qualification and the type of student taking the exam are broadly the same the results will be broadly the same. Any differences in results in English or in other subjects will reflect the differences in the make-up of the group taking the exam in terms of the number of their abilities or indeed, this year, differences in the qualification system.... We are applying the approach we have been for the last two years ... but it is just the case that because qualifications last over two years ... it takes a little while for these changes to work through the system.If that is the case, then why have the boundaries changed this year? In an insightful piece, Paul Cotterill notes.
...one informed commenter at TES Online says:
Why is nobody just admitting that it is only grade boundary changes that have made the difference? For the first year our CA [controlled assessment] marks are worse than exams – like others, if we had submitted in January we would be around 8% better off due to CA grade boundary shift of 6 marks. Exam boards need to find adequate answer – as it is same task, just different submission date. I should have realised that just like holidays, UMS points are more expensive in the peak season!
And as Chris Cook reports, there seems there is an emerging pattern:
Schools also said that the fall in results was concentrated on children taking exams in the summer, rather than the winter. The exam boards acknowledged that grade boundaries in English qualifications had risen between January and July. Brian Crosby, head of the Manor Church of England Academy in York, told the BBC that in his city, “every school where they had taken the summer examination had had a 10 to 12 per cent drop in performance”. Those that took exams in the winter “were either happy or had an increase in performance”.
These changes clearly haven't "worked through" - they've been dumped on the system in the past few months. The difference is this stark - if the controlled assessments, which are done in class under tight supervision - were submitted back at the start of the year, then they would get better marks than ones submitted later in the year.
Michael Gove and the boss of Ofqual have both been at pains to point out that there has been no instruction to Ofqual to get tough on students.
There doesn't need to be.
In the world of government contracts, it makes sense to keep an eye on the direction of travel of those who pay your invoices - reading the runes is quite key to securing your future and I've done this myself in a different environment. Paul Cotterill reminds us that Gove has dangled the idea of a single examination board to replace the current six and it is hardly surprising that these boards have all followed his desire to deflate grades. It is also apparent that this deflation has occurred very late in the process - after the schools have finished teaching to the syllabus.
This, I suggest, may well explain the mid-year change of grade boundaries. The fact that Gove went public on the single exam body idea in the Spring (though the Select Committee knew his views in December 2011) and that the grade boundaries were changed immediately afterwards is not quite the smoking gun we’re looking for, but I’d bet good money that it’s no coincidence.
The Tories are spinning a line about being more rigorous, but this is merely self-serving drivel. The syllabus hasn't become more challenging, exams haven't been made more difficult and they aren't being marked any more harshly - this is just using a blunt statistical tool to achieve a given aim by deception. The truth is, as is becoming a mark of this government, that this is an ideologically driven change.
Bear in mind that this year, schools have to ensure that 40% of their pupils pass at least 5 GSCEs with A-C grades including English and Maths or they face OFSTED moving in and either closure or forced conversion to academy status - regardless of the view of local authorities, parents, teachers or governors. Gove knows best. If they don't get you by redrawing the boundaries on what constitutes a decent school as part of the regular - and increasingly aggressive - OFSTED inspections, then they will get you on poor exam performance. They don't want to make it too obvious, nor do they want to overload the academy network, so this will be a gradual process, with about 250 extra members of the brave new world of academies. Next year, it rises to 45%. More schools will 'fail', become academies and be fattened up ready for the private sector to take over. James Hargrave came to exactly the same conclusion and the Telegraph even ran the story as a front page headline.
So, as you are drawn away by pictures of a naked Royal prince, remember that our children are being used by this government to pursue their own aims. Remember also that behind these broad figures lie individual disappointments. Disproportionately, this will affect students in poorer areas who already face particular challenges and this will have a lifelong impact. Chris Edwards, an English teacher writes a moving open letter to Michael Gove, which bears reading in full.
I spent the vast majority of the morning consoling students, who worked more than hard enough to achieve a C grade in English, had been predicted a C grade in English and effectively had earned a C grade in English, but had been credited with a D grade, thus scuppering their chances of going to a college which had conditionally accepted them based on their predicted grades. Just to be exceptionally clear, these are not privileged kids who were bright enough to get a high grade, but just couldn’t be bothered to work. These are students who are learning English as a second, sometimes third, language who have attended every revision session provided and still requested more, leading to some of us teachers having to put video lessons on YouTube to quench their never-ending thirst for knowledge.
The work ethic shown by some of these students to overcome their language barriers was breathtaking and awe-inspiring. When coming to collect their results, they were far too humble to be over-confident, let alone complacent, but deep down they were content with the knowledge that they had given their all. On opening the envelopes and seeing their D grades, each and every one of them covered their faces due to the shame that they felt. They should, of course, have been celebrating. But instead, a combination of devastation, embarrassment and confusion descended upon them and it was left to us teachers to try to explain to them what had gone wrong.How does Michael Gove sleep at night, knowing that his ideology is ruining young lives?
Next time your local Tory or LibDem MP pops up to share in the reflected glory of the achievements of the students at a local school, remember this and remind them.