This summer’s debate has exposed tensions between two key claims

Pupils sit their GCSE exams

Pupils sit their GCSE exams

First published in Letters

Writing as an early-taking, resit-improved student of English language O-Level, I sympathise with certain schools’ reluctance to publish anything other than final grades achieved by young people who may have had two or more bites at the maths and English cherries in their GCSE exams.

Two key points may be borne in mind: exam results ‘belong to’ the young person who has earned them and, consequently, they should stand as a mark of that person’s final achievement in any particular subject; and schools need a common system of comparison if meaningful conclusions are to be drawn about which are the ‘better’ schools, and which ‘worse’. This summer’s debate exposes the tensions between these two claims.

With school or training now continuing until 18, and with an expectation that maths and English should continue supported through these years for students yet to reach their full potential, then the notion of continuing improvement is built in, and any artificial horizon at 16 is just that – an arbitrary staging post erected outwith the individual interests of each of the young people concerned.

In healthcare, if drinking plenty of barley water fails, then a course of antibiotics might be prescribed; in law, if a case seems to have been decided contrarily, then an appeal may be launched.

In each case, the profession operates in a framework allowing repeat and improving interventions, to the benefit of the patient or appellant.

If schools don’t like their common system or framework, let them negotiate a better one. Doctors and lawyers appear less buffeted than headteachers.

James Dasaolu might never run as fast as Usain Bolt, but we don’t want to discourage him from trying. We keep a common system of comparison (a good watch and 100m), and let them go again and again.

Peter Martin, Church Close, Bampton

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