Incredulity becomes anger – the GCSE English Language debacle.

Yesterday we celebrated some outstanding GCSE results at DHSB. Our higher-achieving students recorded strings of A*s and As against a backdrop of high achievement across the school; I tweeted photos and blogged success happily for our brilliant, hardworking students and staff.

A National issue was simultaneously challenging my equanimity.

It was clear to me on Wednesday morning that our English Language grades were much lower than we’d expected. Over the course of the next 48 hours I tracked the story online, mostly via trusted sources on Twitter. I was reluctant to comment at an early stage for fear of taking the focus away from the wider successes our school and students have enjoyed.

Our English Language A*-C grades are down by 9%; the students all sat the AQA exam in June. Hundreds of schools and thousands of students have been similarly affected nationally.

A useful, accurate summary of the wider standards debate and the specific English Language marking issue was broadcast on Newsnight. I recommend you watch this.

So, now is the time to share my discomfiture and speak up for a minority of our students who appear to have been judged unfairly in this key examination.

Initial evidence locally and nationally, suggests that some “early entry” schools whose students sat the exam in January have not suffered in the same way and are enjoying record results – which is great for them but inherently unfair for the same cohort of young people who sat the exam in June. Again, evidence suggests that grade boundaries, understood and worked towards, were raised between January and June.

Ofqual and the DfE deny interference but somebody somewhere made this decision. Perhaps it was taken in the face of concerns that unless an adjustment to a core subject (affecting the results of thousands of students), was made the overall pass rate might not reduce, thus scuppering the winning political rhetoric of defending educational standards? Too early for conspiracy theories.

Back to those affected. It appears that some students, whose moderated assessments led them to believe they were heading for a Grade C, entered the exam hall with no chance of achieving one because of these grade boundary changes.

We are left to make up our own “Goal-post shifting” metaphors here.

I’d be interested to hear from any schools who had a mixed entry profile (January and June) and saw fluctuations in predicted versus actual results within the same cohort.

Our “downturn” is set against record results for GCSE English Lit (99% A*-C) and record KS5 results in English Literature last week. Ok, the Literature exam is a different discipline in some ways from the Language paper but there has never been this disparity between the results. Same teachers, same students…

DHSB is a confident organisation able to refute the headline statistics affected by this debacle. In January, if we haven’t been successful in reversing the decisions, our 5A*-C headline statistic will indicate a 10% drop in our “standards”.

I’m less concerned about this than I am about the students I believe have suffered due to a clumsy, in-year alteration to grade boundaries. This is wrong.

If you’re a parent what can you do? Ask the key questions in letters to your MPs and keep the issue public and live in the (social) media.

What is the school going to do? Review / Appeal the GCSE English Language results. We’ll be using the media and our professional associations to ensure that the right questions are asked and that the issue does not get buried. Follow me on Twitter for updates and retweets of the key journalists and  heads commenting on and maintaining the pressure for answers.

At the same time we will continue to celebrate the success of our school, the many subjects and students whose results have been outstanding, and not allow the new academic year to be haunted by an injustice.



2 thoughts on “Incredulity becomes anger – the GCSE English Language debacle.

  1. Pete Robinson

    Although I empathise with English, this is not the only subject and is part of a wider issue, whilst I cannot vouch for other subjects, I know in product design this has also happened, affecting over a dozen students, who on previous years would have got higher grades on the same marks! The press seem ti have grasped English as a storey but this is much bigger than that!

  2. The “Grade inflation” genie has been out for most of the summer. A number of subjects have seen the impact.

    The English Language issue is a more cynical, in-year adjustment; an arbitrary shift that means an entry point for a cohort was a determiner of “success”.

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