Stories + Views
GCSEs, KS2 SATS, Ofsted and Ofqual– schools need answers.
Amid the debate and controversy about the planned GCSE replacement, it is important not to lose sight of what is still going on right now in schools around the country in the wake of this summer’s GCSE re-grading row.
One fact that emerged last week has been perplexing me. Three pieces of evidence; the Ofqual letters to Edexcel leaked to the TES, the testimony of the Ofqual CEO to the Education Select Committee and the findings of the Welsh government’s review into re-grading all focused on the role played by KS2 SATs results in the regulation of GCSE results. Education journalist Warwick Mansell as also written an extensive blog on this here.
This statement on the Ofqual website summarises the situation. A prediction about GCSEs is made based on the KS2 results of the cohort in question. If that cohort exceeds expectations then the English exam regulator forces down the GCSE grades to bring them into line with predictions.
This is one of the reasons why the Welsh government decided to order the Welsh exam board to re-grade English GCSE papers for Welsh students. Those students were not part of the KS2 cohort on which English pupils’ 2012 results were based since Welsh primary school pupils don’t sit the test at all. The Welsh review took the view that basing GCSE results on English pupils’ performance gave an inaccurate picture of the potential of their Welsh peers.
But if GCSE results are based on KS2 predictions, how can schools do what is expected of them in terms of the performance tables, RAISEonline and Ofsted? All these key measures of accountability rest on how well schools enable their pupils to make progress from KS2.
To make more than average progress and exceed expectations, which is what schools are being asked to do consistently in order to be judged good or better, pupils must exceed expected progress from their starting points. This is particularly graphically shown in the RAISEonline data that schools receive each year to analyse their GCSE results and compare progress with other schools.
But if pupils across the country are only allowed to make the predicted progress, schools are being asked to do the impossible. Some may be able to make exceptional progress (presumably those that put their pupils in for early entry English this year will benefit) but this must be at the expense of other schools, and pupils.
The fact that this is at odds with what government and Ofsted are asking of schools is hinted at in these two letters on the Ofqual website dated August 15. The first is from Ofqual CEO Glenys Stacey to Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, the second from Ms Stacey to Education Secretary Michael Gove. In the letters Ms Stacey sets out how Ofqual will enforce its ‘comparable outcomes’ approach to grades, taking account of the prior attainment of students, to try and contain what she calls ‘grade inflation’
Here is the relevant paragraph from the letter to Sir Michael:
“One consequence of this approach is that it is less likely that schools as a whole will be able to evidence improvement with better exam results, year after year. Unlike in past years, we do not expect to see year-on-year increases in attainment.
We are confident that we can justify this approach given our objective to secure standards. But we recognise that it will create concerns in schools and it will have implications for you, given that exam results are part of the evidence base that you use in inspecting and reporting on schools”
She concludes by requesting a meeting with Sir Michael to discuss this.
Her letter to Michael Gove says:
“In past years, we saw year-on-year increases in national exam results. Our approach means that whilst some schools will see improvement in their exam results, due to comparable outcomes the overall results will not show significant increases. So it will be difficult to secure system-level improvements in exam results which you have said you want to see. And we know that many in the education sector are concerned about this.
…. And for future years, we will explore whether there is scope to develop the approach so that genuine increases in performance can be more easily demonstrated, where there is evidence for that. But we do not underestimate the difficulty of doing that.”
She is certainly right that schools will be concerned about this, and about the fact that she readily admits Ofqual doesn’t know how to judge genuine progress. Several head teachers are already expressing concern. Ian Bauckman, a head from Kent tweeted: “Gove speaks of ‘transformative power of education’, but Ofqual says GCSE results can’t be allowed to exceed KS2 predictions = contradiction.”
John Tomsett, a head from York tweeted: It’s against everything every headteacher I know believes in… It means intelligence is fixed & secondary schools can never be better than their intake. Deeply dispiriting if you let it be.
Amid all the heat that today’s GCSE statement will generate, I hope someone will be able to explain how to resolve this contradiction and explain to schools what they are expected to do now to demonstrate they are succeeding according to the accountability system in which they operate.