What effect would the WOLF GCSE measure have had in 2013?

Henry Stewart's picture
This summer the GCSE benchmark of 5ACEM (5 GCSEs including English and Maths) will be calculated using the new method recommend by Professor Alison Wolf. At the moment qualifications like Btec count as equivalent to GCSEs and are included in the 5ACEM benchmark. From this summer far fewer of these equivalents can be counted. Where vocational awards do still qualify, no qualification can count for more than one GCSE (instead of being equivalent to 2 or 4) and only two vocational qualifications are allowed to be included in 5ACEM.

In response to a Freedom of Information request from Local Schools Network, the Department for Education has made available data on how the 2011, 2012 and 2013 GCSE results would have changed, for every school in the country, if calculated using the 2014 WOLF method - a figure which each school should be aware of from Raise Online.

GCSE Benchmark would have been 3.8% less, and 7.4% less in sponsored academies

Overall the average GCSE benchmark in 2013 would have been 3.8% lower using the new method of calculation. However some schools would have been affected more. Sponsored academies, who have been much more reliant on equivalents, would have seen their results fall by almost twice as much, at 7.4%.

The effect is still greater on academy chains. Of the chains with at least 5 schools only one (CfBT) faces a fall below the average 3.8%. Several face falls of over 10%, with the David Ross Educational Trust schools being 11.7% lower and those of Outward Grange being 13.7% lower on average.

The effect varies hugely, even within the same chain. For instance the Harris Eltham 5ACEM figure of 85% would have fallen to 59% (down 26%) without any equivalents. However on the WOLF measure it is still an impressive 78% (a drop of just 7%). On the other hand Harris Beckenham's figure of 61% would have fallen to 42% without equivalents (down 19%) and still falls to 44% (down 17%) on the WOLF measure.

The WOLF measure would have doubled those before floor standard, to 402 schools

Overall 281 schools would in 2013 have had a 5ACEM figure that was 10% lower and 31 schools would have been 20% lower (22 of which are academies). In 2013 there were 187 schools below the government’s floor of 40%. Using the 2014 WOLF measure this would have more than doubled to 402.

This doesn't necessarily mean that GCSE results will fall by this amount, as many schools have adopted strategies to take account of the new measure. It will, for instance, end the practice (in a small number of schools) of getting many students to focus on English and Maths and then topping it up with Btec ICT (currently equivalent to 4 GCSEs and with a very high pass rate). On the other hand there is the danger that students who genuinely benefit from taking vocational qualifications will have found their choices restricted - as only two now qualify for the school's league table measure.

One of the ironies of these changes, which are not generally seen as controversial, is that they are likely to hit Michael Gove’s favourite schools – sponsored academies – hardest. While the Secretary of State likes to give the impression that these schools are giving students new opportunities to take the traditional subjects, the opposite is actually the case. For instance, only 11% of students in sponsored academies achieved History or Geography, compared to 23% in schools overall, and this figure remains significantly lower when similar schools are compared.


Note: I would like to thank the DfE for their very comprehensive response to this FoI request. I also apologise for the delay in publicising it, which was due to long winded discussions about where best to publish it.
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 13/07/2014 - 13:39

This very important post confirms that nothing much has changed since my article was published.


All this is intricately connected with school improvement. The most improved schools are generally those that have degraded their curriculum the most as Henry sets out here. All Gove sees is the illusion of school improvement without noticing that how it is done is deeply damaging to the life chances of pupils attending the most improved schools especially those of lower intake ability that are denied a truly enabling and personally developmental curriculum.

Henry only reveals half the story. The other half concerns the degraded teaching methods used to achieve the vital C grades in English and maths that are needed alongside the inflated A*-Cs on other subjects. This has a devastating effect on take up and success of academic A Levels.

Will the media now take note?

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sun, 13/07/2014 - 14:36

the conclusion has been predictable ever since the DFE reported, buried in a submission to the Select Committee, that academies did worse on Ebacc than any other type of school.

However the media take not a blind bit of notice of all the statistical evidence, so facts are not what is wanted. The media simply ignore the facts and have done from the moment they decided academies were a magic bullet

The reality will however kick in as the League tables for the first post wolf scores will happen in January next year. Only a concerted attempt to challenge media manipulation will have any chance of getting a chink of light through the media darkness.

Trevor Fisher.

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