The saying goes, “You’re only as good as your last Progress 8 score.” If that is true then we have got ourselves into a right mess; we’re looking down the wrong end of the telescope. You need the wide view.
The GCSE results are in for another year (also the KS2 and A-levels); headteachers and heads of centres, alongside their data managers, often download results the day before and have started the analysis. For those with their “best ever results” the analysis can be brief; we’ve smashed it. For others, where results are looking poor, there is the desperate analysis and re-analysis; checking this and that repeatedly; hoping and praying they will find an error that will magically transform the numbers they are looking at. I’ve done both and everywhere in between.
Be Aware of Volatility
With twenty new GCSEs this year – different more challenging content, terminal examination based and on the 1 to 9 grading system – this year will be more prone to volatility than many that have gone before. A slightly incorrect reading of the syllabus, bit of confusion over the content and the need to shift pedagogy towards an examination based system can all impact particularly in the first year. You need to a bit more lucky with your decisions than in previous years when you can base them on experience.
When faced with one of our core departments having a bit of a ‘mare last year, with their new examinations course, we held our nerve. Our reasons were mainly twofold: we believed in the quality of the teachers and their teaching and they quickly and accurately analysed the very specific issue that had led to the lower than expected results. They also knew how they wanted to address it. They were best left to their own devices; I was bloody-minded in protecting them from external interventions and left alone they delivered, day in and day out, in a calm controlled manner on their plans. As expected, normal service resumed this year; congratulations to them. It’s a lesson learnt; only a fool basis significant intervention on one year’s performance.
Where a teacher or department has the capacity and capability to sort out an issue they will do it faster, more efficiently and more humanely if your intervention is minimal. Significant direct intervention should be a last resort rather than a first thought; your job is to get people to reflect and come up with their own effective solutions and ensure they are implemented. Your more direct intervention should be saved for where there is a multi-year failure to deliver. Things are not always rose coloured and there are times as a leader you need to act; act in proportion to the scale of the issue, period over which it has existed and other’s ability to resolve it.
This year, Attainment 8 may be significantly affected by the removal of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) taken last year by one third of all students. This will affect schools differently depending upon how much their progress data included the ECDL. For a school who entered all pupils it could reduce their overall Attainment 8 by 2 points; Progress 8 may also go down.
After the success of entering high numbers of students for the Higher Paper in Maths last year it appears that the reverse may have happened with Science. Ofqual have had to intervene and allow the awarding of 3-3 grades due to the high number of students ungraded on the higher tier paper. Add in the usual dilemma of evaluating option subjects who might have very different cohorts based on prior attainment and at best you’ll have a partial picture of this year’s performance on results day.
Don’t Rush to Judgement
My plea on results day is please don’t rush to judgement. Thank the staff and departments who appear to have done well; share their joy. Thank the staff and departments who are down about their results; they will beat themselves up enough; they don’t need your help. Promise the latter group you will look at possible reasons and solutions with them in early September. Hopefully by then they will bring you potential well-evidenced reasons for the results, lines of enquiry, and how they intend to address them. They may well have over thought it and seek to do too much; ensure they are focused on a few priorities and clinical in their implementation. Encourage the former group to analyse why they were successful and where next on their inexorable improvement journey.
Examination analyses are best served cold; results days are about the young people and ensuring they are on the right path for the next stage of their journey.
Look after yourself; when things go wrong don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a multi-year view and seek advice if you feel at a loss what to do next; think and reflect much more than you act in these early days. Once you’ve identified the potential problem accurately you can then move to possible solutions and effective action. Don’t forget the plans you already have in process may be exactly what is needed; hold your nerve.
I hope today has been kind to you and your students.