When Michael Gove accused the profession of “gaming and cheating” it wasn’t surprising that a furious response followed. If he meant to provoke the profession he certainly achieved it. Whilst I’m not sure that this is actually the role of a Secretary of State it opened up an interesting debate.
The two elements of the accusation are very different. Cheating is breaking the rules. This could include opening examination papers early to inform students of the content, amending examination scripts prior to sending them off, teachers completing coursework for students or plagiarism. These are wholly unacceptable and there are a series of responses which examination boards may apply. The issue of gaming is all about perspective. Whilst there was some bonkers stuff going on, we used early entry and some resits in GCSE English to very good effect. Other schools used early entry and multiple entry to similarly good effect in GCSE Mathematics. The option to resit a paper during A-level, if targeted carefully, was also beneficial to students. These second chances are particularly helpful to those who are most disadvantaged. As John Dunford rightly pointed out, the impact of using the flexibility within the system, to attain the best outcomes for students, transformed some children’s life chances. It gave them passports to better futures.
Problematic Performance Measures
The whole gaming issue has its genesis in the performance measures set centrally. In many ways, it is a bit rich of any politician, who insists that we jump through a series of hoops, complaining that we’ve found ways to jump through them very well.
I’ve blogged before about the performance measures that I have been judged on as a headteacher:
- 5+ A*-C (with students walking out with fifteen BTEC qualifications or more)
- Contextual Value Added (put as many students on the SEN register as possible – context lowers their expected score – but don’t register anyone as EAL – their expected score is increased due to their language acquisition over time. Do BTEC)
- 5+ A*-CEM (ignore the most and least able, focus on the middle. Narrow the curriculum to EM plus three more)
- English Baccalaureate (Students must do this particular set of subjects to make the school look good)
New Performance Measures
The new performance measures, for the end of Key Stage 4 are: Progress 8, Attainment 8, percentage of students attaining a pass in English & Mathematics, percentage of students attaining the E-Bacc and a destinations measure which has yet to be finalised.
I’m not a fan at all of the E-Bacc. The failure to include English Literature or Religious Studies within the E-Bacc measure is incomprehensible. The specific requirement to have one of these plus one of those, in contrast to how the E-Bacc subjects are incorporated into other performance measures, devalues the E-Bacc significantly. It is too idiosyncratic to be of any real value to students, schools or our wider society. The essential rationale behind the E-Bacc is incorporated, in a far more subtle and sensible manner, in the Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures.
Attainment 8 at a school level is damaging and of little value. I predict it will essentially become a proxy measure for the level of social advantage or disadvantage of a school’s intake. It will have relatively less to do with the school’s effect. However, aggregated up to a local, regional or national measure Attainment 8 may have a very useful purpose in tracking changes in the overall attainment of students over time. Is the system improving overall?
On a more positive note, the focus on the percentage of students attaining English and Mathematics and particularly the new destinations measure are key measures. Whilst some may see these as part of the more utilitarian outcome of education for many of us it is about moral purpose. How do we ensure all the young people we educate are given life chances? My own children have been blessed with not just a second chance in life but a third, fourth, fifth … though they have had to put up with me being their dad. This is also true of many children who attend the academies within our Multi Academy Trust. However, for other children, life doesn’t seem to have offered them a first chance. We must assume this responsibility on behalf of society.
Finally, Progress 8 has so much to commend it. The measure will no doubt require at least a doctorate in Mathematics to understand it. It will be based on a model which projects a student’s statistical outcome at GCSE based on her/his point score at the end of Key Stage 2. It moves beyond the three/four levels progress model which served middle attaining students well but did a disservice to higher attaining students in particular.
As with all announcements I’ll do these in reverse order of potential impact. It helps build up the suspense.
The English Literature Issue – The whispered discussions have already started about entering students for GCSE English Literature, to ensure the double weighting of English in the Progress 8 measure, without teaching it or worrying about the grade achieved. It’s a possible scam but I’m not a fan. Over 95% of students at St. Mary’s achieve a grade in English Literature and not just any old grade but a very good one. This is despite them competing against a selective national entry of around 75% of the cohort. It’s a philosophical one for me. Studying English Literature up to the end of Key Stage 4 should be both an expectation and a joy. If I became Secretary of State for a day, you can rest assured that this is never going to happen, I would be tempted to make the double weighted English element the sum of the English and English Literature grades.
The All Students Don’t Need 8 Issue – The top down wisdom seems to be that it would be better for students to do fewer than eight and gain better grades in the five, six or seven GCSEs they actually do. I’m not so sure about this one. I can see the logic but the numbers look a bit more daunting. If I assume this is targeted at lower attaining student and leave aside any curriculum entitlement argument, for a student expected to get eight grade Es at GCSE:
- Dropping one, s/he would need to convert three Es to D grades to attain the same overall point score.
- Dropping two, s/he would need to convert all the remaining six GCSEs, being sat, from E grades to D
- By the time students have moved to just five GCSEs, which would need to include English & Mathematics, s/he would need to attain four Cs and a D.
The 5+3 Diet Issue – I’ve heard some rumblings about students being required to do English (plus entered for English Literature), Maths, three E-Bacc qualifications and then three vocational qualifications. The rationale is that students will attain higher grades in the vocational subjects and hence increase their Progress & Attainment 8 scores. Please don’t go there. We must be all about the students. The diet may be right for a few students but it will be awful for the vast majority.
The E-Bacc Basket Issue – Schools may have made either a philosophical or a practical issue about whether students will or won’t be required to have three E-Bacc qualifications in their Progress 8 basket. This is relatively easy to do, at a practical level, through the options system and qualification choice. One potential way to look at this is teaching triple in Science in the time it takes to teach double Science. This is pretty much impossible at the top end but for lower attaining students there are pros and cons. The downside is whether they can hold the level of attainment across the three separate Sciences compared to the double award. The possible benefit is it opens up an additional curriculum slot for them to pursue the most appropriate curriculum whilst ensuring the Progress & Attainment 8 measures don’t suffer.
The Number 1 Top #Progress8 Scam: Teach Them All Well
I love this scam. I’m going to commit to push through this scam in all the academies within the trust. There is nothing like a “teach them all well scam” to get me excited. The Progress 8 measure is an inclusive measure. Every child and every grade counts. This is why it has so much to commend it. Teaching every student well and every school being measured against students’ starting points has a greater element of justice than much of what has gone before.
The scams, gaming or choices above are pretty limited. I’ve no doubt more will appear. Rather than looking for a way around the measure we may now be better spending all are time and effort on ensuring students have the best possible teaching every lesson, every day, week in and week out. Amen to that I say.
Other Blogs which may be of interest are:
#Imagine … All the Children is a summary our KS4 Options and new Year 9 Curriculum