Dear Parents and Carers
Congratulations to all our students in Years 11 and 13 on their well-deserved results.
In what turned out to be a moment of clairvoyance yesterday, our exams officer told everybody to not stick down the envelopes with the students’ results in, saying they are bound to have messed up something else (or a less polite variation on those words). Sure enough, at 4.30pm we received the email telling us not to give out the Btec results as they all needed regrading. Another moment of confusion in a week that has been, even in the context of this year, a shambles.
There is a great danger in an education system that is run by people and organisations who not only never work directly with kids, but who fail to listen to anybody who does. This last week is a symptom of this, with the completely avoidable fiasco driven by a Secretary of State, a Schools Minister and Ofqual who are all obsessed with grade inflation and have lost any sense that their decisions don’t just lead to nice looking graphs on a screen but have a measurable impact on young people who, through no fault of their own, have lost any control over their own outcomes due to Covid-19.
Grade inflation is the idea that if ever higher numbers of students get better grades, it shows that the exams are possibly too easy and the results are devalued. To avoid this, the proportion of each grade given is largely pre-set and will only move slightly year on year. For example, the proportion of students achieving a grade 5 or better in GCSE maths will always be around 40% nationally. Within this there is huge variation between schools, but the national figure will be maintained at around 40%. The same principle is applied to all grades at GCSE and A level. The only way to achieve this is to slide the grade boundaries up or down, as different year groups will vary in how much of the paper they get right, but the top 40% will always get grade 5 or better. It makes being precise in grade forecasting very difficult, but given the choice between two grades for a student we will always opt for the more optimistic one, knowing that the skills the student has displayed matches the grades we forecast in some of the previous years. It seems to me that a series of Education Secretaries – and certainly Ofqual – have made fighting grade inflation their reason for being.
This year, with no exams, there was a clear choice of what to make the priority: continuing the fight against grade inflation or prioritising the individuals in the system. They opted for the former, and created a formula which they must have been very proud of when it showed that the grades awarded in 2020 would align with 2019. At that point, they felt the job was done, and it was… they had successfully combated grade inflation. Even at a school level we could see our overall grades looked okay and were reasonably similar to 2019. What we could also see from the first moment was that in order to achieve this, individual students had been sacrificed for the ‘greater good’ of combating grade inflation. There is no way that people at Ofqual and the Department for Education wouldn’t have known this would be the case from the first moment they ran the algorithm; it just wasn’t what they were looking for.
The question to ask is why, after everything that has occurred this year and the impact Covid has had on students in Years 11 and 13, they chose to make grade inflation their priority at the expense of individual kids? It gives a telling insight into the minds of those in charge, as I don’t believe anybody who actually works directly with students could have made this decision. And returning to my original point, the people in charge of education seem to have demonstrated to the country that they have forgotten that there are kids in this system and that every decision they make has an impact on every child, not just on making a graph look nice. Even Robert Halfon MP, the Conservative chair of the education select committee, has reprimanded all concerned for believing they can gauge success in education from a computer screen.
Assuming Gavin Williamson and Nick Gibb remain in post, maybe it is time for them to get into schools and listen to the people in the system: kids, parents and teachers. Nobody pretends that leading a nationwide system as vast as education is easy, and we know you can’t possibly please everybody, but it would be nice to feel that those responsible never again lose sight of the people they serve: the kids in the system from early years to university. There has to be more to education than grade inflation or creating a ‘world class system’ which the Secretary of State often says without ever giving details of what that may look like.
I am delighted that they changed their minds. To all students in Year 11 and 13 – the grades we gave you match your skill set – don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
And for those interested, the cost of all this? The exam boards are all keeping over 70% of what schools have paid them, even though no exams were sat. They will refund the rest which is welcome. But as I write this, the cost to Myton School for the exam boards to send us back the grades we gave them two months ago = £100,000. But at least we saved on the envelopes!
With best wishes
Andy Perry – Head TeacherClick here to return to the current newsletter