Friday, 26 August 2011

Early GCSEs are no scam

Today's Telegraph and Mail have found a new target in their relentless battle against the achievements of our schools and young people: the early GCSE. They tell us (with some encouragement from the exam boards, it would seem) that the main reason schools enter their students for exams early is to 'play' the league tables. This is not the case. The practice was actively encouraged for bright students, so that some they might be stretched, just as a growing number of schools have students taking AS levels a year early too. One of the most inspiring classes I ever visited was a 15-strong AS Maths class of 15 year-olds in North Liverpool Academy, a place I should imagine is entirely alien to those who try to concoct new ways to do down students each year. These were young people from some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. Schools were actively encouraged to do this as part of Labour's 'gifted and talented' drive. Another reason why schools do some GCSEs early is to encourage young people to do a wider range of exams, and to show them that they can achieve. Others do use it is a practice run. Yes, some schools will bank the GCSEs early, but their motive is not just about the tables, it is as much about widening the achievement of their students and stretching them. But that is perhaps too noble an explanation for the shrill voices of the Tory press.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely right. My daughter did GCSE Maths for the (third) time this summer (getting an A grade) - this time at the "normal" age. Doing it three times was to help coach her through it and also to give her the confidence to do Statistics (another A). She also tried the free standing further maths (essentially AS) - though she didn't do so well at that! All at an inner London comprehensive that was given a "fresh start" by Labour about a decade ago. She hates Maths too and is dropping it at A levels - if she had just done the exam "cold" she would never have had the confidence to get the two As.
Given this country's culture of telling its (ordinary) kids they are a feral waste of space and that their hard won achievements count for nothing, I often wonder at how many of them go on to achieve so much.
Keep up the good work, Conor

oldandrew said...

I don't deny that this is how early entry started, but I can tell you from the frontline that it has become a scam.

Schools which focus all their resources on getting C grades simply try and get as many Cs in the bag as possible as soon as possible so they can reduce the number of "target" children they need to work on. It's depressing, but it is true and when I've worked at schools introducing early entry it has always been presented as a way to get more C grades. There is a genuine problem with early entry, although I am far from sure what the solution is.

That said, when I did work at a school that had used this approach to boost their results, they had started to come under pressure for their lack of grades above C and particularly their lack of A* grades.

matt said...

I'm sure that there is some excellent practice out there with schools using early GCSEs to develop and/or stretch students. However, I see a lot of students' qualifications as they enrol at 6th Form College and it is pretty clear to me that most of these early GCSEs produce lower grades than that student gets at the end of Year 11. I also see students with qualifications equivalent to over 10 GCSEs - even if that really represents a positive broadening of the range of their studies I think it is too much assessment and not enough quality learning. The system clearly does not encourage schools to broaden teaching without burdening them with assessment.