I wrote most of this for a local newspaper column a year ago. This is an update…
Many of you will be aware that A level results were released last Thursday and that GCSE results will be announced this Thursday. Of course this is an a hugely stressful time for students and their parents. So much rides on these results. A place at a top university, being able to study the A’levels you wanted or a place on an apprenticeship. Each set of results will have its own story from unbridled success to the feeling of abject failure. For each student the results will be the result of a successful or unsuccessful partnership between the student, their parents and their teachers. It is effected by not only those relationships, but everything that is happening in that student’s life.
Many of you won’t be aware that in the age of high accountability that many Headteachers and teachers this is a very stressful time. This is where a aggregation of the student’s results can result in professionals losing their jobs.
Last week we had looked closely at the Average Point Score (APS) for level 3 qualifications (A’ levels and their equivalents). This is the total score achieved by each student averaged across the institution. Have a high attaining cohort that will tend to take 4 or 5 A levels your score should be well above 800. Have a comprehensive intake, that in the main take 3, you are looking for scores above 700. So the league table is skewed by schools that have high ability intakes and who’s students take more than the required 3 A’ levels. That isn’t to say that a Grammar school Headteacher has any less pressure. They have to ensure that their results are at the top of the league table to ensure healthy numbers the year after from academic children. This is also one of the key league table battle grounds as selected state maintained grammars do battle with selective private schools. You can obviously make clunky references to the the Olympics where elites do battle with elites. But, for these schools the pressure is high to ensure that the decision made by parents when their children were 11 or 13 were correct (see the man suing his son’s private school because he gained 1 GCSE). This is different for the non selective, we see huge triumphs from students that were able to enter vocational courses and go onto university, most of whom tend to be the first going to a university from their family. However, at comprehensives we also have the higher attaining who gain straight A*s and are off to Oxford. I feel it is great to see the full range!
But the league table, as I have explained before, is not a comparison of like for like. An APS of 600 in a non-selective in a tough area can be more significant that all the schools that post 800+.
Tomorrow is the GCSE results. These are now will be reported in a very different way, Progress8 or P8, when the league tables are produced sometime in the Autumn. Now your floor target is your cohort and how they did under you care. The heartache for staff will still be the student that gets one grade below what is expected. The problem is that what is expected will only be known once all the results come out. I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in. Yes you heard it correctly. The target that you have been aiming at will only be fully known once the exams have been marked and reported.
What does this mean? Well for me it is seriously not really knowing what the outcomes for our students will be for the first time in 10 years (albeit 2012 was tough with the change in grade boundaries). This is the first year that I am actually unsure. We had an incredibly hardworking Year 11, but our success or failure will be their performance measured against all the other schools nationally. If they have done well it will be a positive score, perhaps an exciting 0.75. Done ok and it will be around 0. Done badly enough to give you sleepiness nights it will be below -0.5.
So, both results days, require all students to perform consistently across that exam season, for GCSE that involves over 20 exams. When you look at the headline figures you don’t know about the child who has spent the last 6 months in hospital. Or the student that has collapsed under the pressure. Or the one who’s parent has died recently. Each of those children who make up the overall headline figure for the league table are individuals with different backgrounds, ability, home lives, relative poverty or wealth, interested or not interested parents. Yet schools are held responsible for the performance of the students no matter what is going on in the other 18 hours of their day.
So if you know a student, a parent, a teacher or a headteacher, have a thought for them over the next fortnight. Lives are changed irreversibly at this time.