Smoothing the way to new grades for exams

ISSUES: Wallingford School head Wyll Willis and his deputy Gwyn Williams with pupils who did well in their GCSEs last year to give the school the best results in the county

ISSUES: Wallingford School head Wyll Willis and his deputy Gwyn Williams with pupils who did well in their GCSEs last year to give the school the best results in the county Buy this photo

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Education Reporter, also covering West Oxford. Call me on (01865) 425437

AS GCSE pupils have now taken their exams, headteachers are considering the changes coming into force over the next few years.

Current letter grades – A* to G – will be out and all new number gradings will be in.

In September 2015, Year 10 pupils will be the first to experience the new marking boundaries but while headteachers across the county generally welcome the move, there are some concerns.

The changes are hoped by Ofqual – the exam regulator – to provide a much clearer distinction between high-flying pupils currently achieving A and A* grades.

It is currently consulting with teachers and headteachers about the move.

The changes would initially affect the English and maths exams taken in 2017, with other subjects being phased in over time.

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Oxford Spires headteacher Sue Croft explained there was not much that could be done to change the plans, saying: “It’s happening, whether we are for or against.

“I am just focusing on the fact there is some good research out there supporting this.”

But she, like many others, approaches the subject with some trepidation.

Mrs Croft said: “The challenge for us is in managing the information which goes to parents about the grades.

“When you have different years being marked with different grades it does make it difficult.

“That will pose us with some challenges. How do you make it easily understandable if you are getting A* to G in some subjects, but 1 to 9 in others?”

Caroline Jordan, the headteacher at independent girls’ school Headington School, echoed those views.

She said: “What could present a problem is those children, when applying for a job, may have a mix of grades, some numerical and some alphabetical, and it could look and be confusing for future employers.”

Being able to distinguish the top-level pupils is a theme which comes up every summer, when GCSE, and A-Level, results are released.

With a grade 9 being available to fewer pupils, will it place more pressure on those at the top of the class?

Mrs Jordan said: “Six per cent of pupils get an A* at the moment, so in theory that will be divided across grades 8 and 9, so three per cent will get a 9.

“What effect will that have on medical students? Will they want three 9s, or six 8 and 9s? It might put more pressure on the youngsters.”

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Mrs Croft said: “It will be helpful for universities, particularly the Russell Group (which represents 24 universities). I don’t think it will necessarily be seen as more pressure.

“When you are at an A grade level, I think all pupils strive to go higher than that.

“We have a young man in Year 10 who is asking if he can take an AS Level alongside his GCSEs.

“It is an opportunity and a challenge to rise to.”

Wyll Willis, headteacher at Wallingford School, agreed.

He said: “I’m concerned about English and maths being changed one year, at the same time they are reforming A-Levels.

“If you are a teacher over a three-year period, all Key Stages – three, four and five – will be reformed.

“For a Secretary of State (Michael Gove), who said he was not going to make too many changes, he seems to be breaking the deal.

“But as long as he is clear about it and how quickly these need to be made then we can work with it.”

Didcot Girls’ School headteacher Rachael Warwick said she can appreciate the advantages of the change, but worries about its further implications.

She said: “I can see this shift also creates the opportunity to monitor progress more effectively by creating one consistent assessment system across KS3 and KS4.

“The disadvantage of the new system, as I see it, includes the suggestion that standards will be raised for the lowest grades, which could make GCSEs inaccessible for some students at a time when schools are being encouraged to enter more and more students for GCSEs rather than vocational courses.

“It will also be confusing for parents to understand this change, especially when many schools will continue to use the current number levels at KS3 which will not correlate with KS4 number grades.”

She agreed it could confuse future employers, adding: “This is an unnecessary change and our focus should instead be on what we assess and the quality of this assessment.”

Only time will tell how the changes will affect children but one hopes concerns that headteachers and parents may have are listened to and acted upon by those in control.

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Comments (1)

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10:43pm Tue 1 Jul 14

Severian says...

Once again we have an education secretary messing about with the system just to show that he's the boss, with the inevitable mess left for everyone else to deal with.

The "All New" scoring system of 1-9 is only for SOME GCSEs, and doesn't match up with the A* to G grades of the current GCSEs. So our kids and employers will have a mixed bag of results to consider. And to make it worse there will be a different GCSE grading system for Wales, so we'll have even more to think about.

No doubt when the new Education Secretary takes over next May (when the Tories get trounced at the General Election) he will no doubt want to change it all over again.
Once again we have an education secretary messing about with the system just to show that he's the boss, with the inevitable mess left for everyone else to deal with. The "All New" scoring system of 1-9 is only for SOME GCSEs, and doesn't match up with the A* to G grades of the current GCSEs. So our kids and employers will have a mixed bag of results to consider. And to make it worse there will be a different GCSE grading system for Wales, so we'll have even more to think about. No doubt when the new Education Secretary takes over next May (when the Tories get trounced at the General Election) he will no doubt want to change it all over again. Severian
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