Why are there no second chances for students in Year 12 in selective state schools?

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
A year 12 student in a selective state school (and I'm sure there are many more) has been refused admission into Year 13 on the grounds that their AS level grades, obtained this year, are not good enough to proceed to A levels.

A few points of deep concern:

1. The student is able and well behaved with a good attendance record. So, this is not a case of lack of ability or poor/disruptive behaviour.

2. The student was given no warning and his family were not contacted at any stage during the year and/or asked to come in to discuss their child's lack of progress.

3. Although the family has been extremely supportive, they do not have the social/cultural capital of the majority of parents with children at this school. Moreover, their child is the first in the family to have obtained a place in a grammar school and to proceed on to AS levels. There is no money for private tuition. Should this not be taken into account as part of the school's duty of care?

4. The student was given a list of other schools 'who might be able to take them.' This suggests that this is therefore not a financial issue for the sixth form in this school. And why is it OK for the school to avoid responsibility for this student by passing them on to another school?

That the school wants to reject all students who cannot guarantee them excellent grades is understandable if we believe that the sole purpose of schools is league tables and top grades (which most of us don't).

A primary purpose of education has also to be about managing failure. Students have to be encouraged and allowed to take risks, experiment with new ideas and try new subject disciplines. It is of deep concern to this country's future creativity and innovation if schools are just about conformance and safe choices.

It is also deeply concerning that some 'outstanding' schools are rated outstanding on their pass rates (we know that large numbers of students are privately tutored) but not on their monitoring of the individual child.
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 14:17

It would be interesting to know the school's interpretation of a pass rate. A Levels are graded A*-E. They are all passes and any such grade could represent good progress and valuable deeper understanding for the student.

We appear to be seeing once again yet another perverse and educationally destructive outcome of marketisation.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 15:12

This depends on how low the pupil's AS results were. If they were below E, then it might not be in the pupil's best interest to continue. However, if they were E or above then there is no reason (apart from the school wanting to offload pupils who are not likely to get high A level results) for telling the student to go elsewhere.

Presumably the student was accepted for Y12 on the basis of GCSE results. Once accepted, the school has a moral (if not a legal) duty to educate the student for the two-year course. The crunch is that Y13 is not part of compulsory education. This means schools can do more or less what they want.

According to this 2012 Mumsnet thread, this behaviour in schools (not just selective ones) is not unusual. Some comments suggested getting in touch with the LA (not much use if the school is an academy), an MP or getting legal advice (not possible if money's tight).

If it's any consolation, the student concerned could dump the grammar and continue (or change course) at another sixth form, FE College or look for an apprenticeship. If s/he's determined to go to university, then s/he will have to study A levels or BTec Level 3.

But what the student needs is good quality careers advice (which the school should be providing). Unfortunately, careers education and guidance in most schools is simply not acceptable. However, the student can do some research. Try these websites:




Or find out if there's a Connexions service locally and get in touch.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Fri, 22/08/2014 - 07:25

Thanks so much Janet. I will pass this on. And thanks Roger for your comments. This school boasts of their around 90%+ A level pass rates every year.

Since writing this thread I have heard that 20 students at another local grammar school have also been thrown out at the end of Year 12. The parents are apparently seething.

I have spent the past week exploring all avenues for this young man. He has applied to all the schools on the list he was given. I have written in support of two of the applications. The schools are inundated. We have sent an appeal to his school knowing there is no chance of him being reinstated. I have found him a mentor who is retired and succeeded through the apprentice route. We have looked at Crammers. They are hugely expensive.

You are right about careers advice. This person had none and has no idea where to turn to now. The school don't even offer a 'post throwing out' service (sorry to sound cynical).

Reading in the papers recently that, in the future, GCSE candidates are going to have little chance to re-sit exams, I wonder how this equates to the apparent government philosophy to educate ALL children to reach their potential regardless of their social background?

Pierre Bourdieu, the French philosopher and sociologist, was right: with a growing social divide, the biggest divide occurs in education.

And, as a footnote, quite apart from the academic setbacks, there is the psychological damage.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 22/08/2014 - 09:15

Georgina - While I am opposed to early entry at GCSE, the opportunity to resit English and maths should be part of every sixth form's provision. It always used to be the case back as far back as I can remember (which is a long way). This applied to selective schools in the 1960s as well as the comprehensives that followed.

The decline of comprehensive provision in school sixth forms is deplorable and unnecessary as Henry points out here.


He makes very important points in this thread, as your experience illustrates. I am sorry that the debate following his thread got side-tracked into the issue of grade inflation.

The issue of age-related student development does not get enough attention. In my personal experience (I was born in July) of A level back in 1963-65, I clearly recall not being able to understand stuff in Y12 that I mastered in Y13. Quite apart from age, cognitive ability develops at different rates for different students. This need never stop. There are aspects of science that I understand now at the age of 67, far more deeply than at any time in the past even though my thought processes are definitely more ponderous.

Employers that reject applicants through a strict implementation of an exam result threshold are very foolish. Selection procedures should be more sophisticated than that. The great scientist Michael Faraday, whose work led directly to Einstein's relativity, started his working life as a relatively poorly qualified Laboratory Technician.

The reason for the trend that you report in school sixth forms is clear. It is obviously marketisation and competition. There is no end to the list of perverse outcomes that result from the ideological fixation of all governments since 1979.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Fri, 22/08/2014 - 10:33

Roger, you are absolutely right in all the points you make.

I worked in the Far East for 21 years - in the Arts - and on my return, joined a secondary modern school heading their EAL department. I knew nothing about GCSEs (Singapore still offers O levels) or about BTECHS, or anything else. Having to teach English Lang and Lit to incoming international students - many of whom spoke no English and some of whom had had no previous education - I began to see the benefits accrued through the flexibility and range of school exams on offer. For motivated students who had to catch up so much educational ground, this flexibility made a huge difference. For example, for a time (not permitted any more), we were allowed to place students (with their approval) into lower year groups to give them a fighting chance to catch up. Extra tuition was paid for by the school. First language GCSEs such as Urdu and Polish were warmly encouraged. Students were allowed to continue into the Sixth form if they could demonstrate a good level of commitment and potential. What then occurred was nothing short of wonderful. Students with so much seemingly stacked against them, went on to succeed even though it took them longer than the other successful students. For example, a young man who arrived from Pakistan in Year 11 (but was placed in Year 10) went on to gain a first degree in Maths and Economics and a Masters in Maths. He is now working in a bank. An Afghan young lady who had had no previous education and spoke no English on arrival in Year 10, was allowed to do her A levels over three years instead of two. She is off to university to do some kind of medical research on the first lap to eventually becoming a doctor.

We can all fill these blogs with such examples.

As you have rightly said, maturity levels vary across the ages. The young man I have been trying unsuccessfully to help has had a bad year, feeling disengaged, despairing and lost. I am very much hoping that the mentor I have found will help a little? As I said, students do need to learn to cope with failure and that can only really be addressed if they are given another chance.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Sat, 30/08/2014 - 04:01

there is a massive problem here, involving both the issue of resits and progression and the wider issue of Information and Guidance. Immediately the big issue is resits. WIth the English gcse pass rate down this year many students can't go on to any post 16 provision as they will not have a grade C. So the right to resit, in fact to do early resits if needed, is crucial, and will affect many

Linked to this is the way league tables are manipulated, in this case to stop multiple resits. Some are of course not desirable, but others are.

I am collating information on this and would appreciate knowing any information that people can give me. The pass rate situation is affected, throwing students out that will not pass to get high pass rates is a key issue. However it is also the case that if students do not get AS grade E they would not be well advised to continue anyway. Second year A Level is too demanding to do the whole of the first year again.

My email address is trevor.fisher2@gmail.com. In the next few weeks schools will have to decide whether to let GCSE students into post 16 provision on their GCSE results, so knowing how the land lies and how heads are manipulating the situation will be vital. My letter in the guardian on Tuesday last (26th) outlines the issues facing many students

trevor fisher.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 31/08/2014 - 17:16

Trevor - The new rules do not preclude students resitting GCSEs in Y12 do they? So what is the problem? I don't believe that 16 year old applicants for admission to courses or employment, who are otherwise judged as suitable are likely to be refused on the basis of a D in English or maths. A suitable programme in a school or college 6th form would be negotiated that includes Y12 retakes.

Also no one is stopping students taking GCSEs in Y10 and then resitting in Y11. The Y11 grade still counts for the student, just not for the institution. This is a win-win situation. Students can still take GCSEs in Y10 if it is genuinely in the student's interest to do so, but it is no longer in the interests of institutions to make them do it for the sole benefit of the institution.

For example, back in 1962 in my school the top set maths students were entered for GCE maths in Y10. Those that got a C or better then studied 'Pure Mathematics with Statistics' and took a GCE in that subject in Y11. Those that failed to get a C were demoted to Set 2 and took GCE maths again in Y11. This was good for the students and seems perfectly reasonable to me. OK so the Y11 C grade would not now count for the institution's performance measures - so what?

A school's curriculum should be designed for benefit of its students - not the performance data of the school. The new arrangements will present this moral requirement more clearly - good, about time.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 01/09/2014 - 03:55

the rules have never precluded heads doing what they want. But the league tables are massively effective in manipulating their behavior. The EBacc has seen a massive growth of entries for Ebacc subjects though it is not in the interests of anyone to do a narrow range of subjects - except public schools, who have seen the advantage of doing the marginal subjects for Russell Group entry. How many so called facilitating subjects does Cameron have?

The reality is that if the student takes GCSE in year 10 and fails, that is what counts for the league tables and the press cannot see that this is not a real fail. Heads are clearly putting the interests of the school image before that of the students. There was a 40% drop in early entries this year, the first year Gove changed the rules. No one is forcing the heads to abandon early entries. But they have done so.

It is also bizarre that EBacc should have changed entry patterns, since it does not exist. Only as a line in a table of performance issued in January.

As you say, it is not in the interests of the student, only in the interests of the institution to stop early entry and limit the students to EBacc subjects.

So are we going to have a campaign to put the students before the league tables?

I am serious. the next stage in the manipulation of entries is to stop schools doing the IGCSE. Not counted for performance tables from Summer 2017.

I haven't seen any one comment on this. But the point is that the entries have to be made in Autumn 2015. Which is when the new GCSEs start. So what Gove is doing is forcing schools to take the GCSEs when they may - and public schools will - want to do IGCSE

Heads are well aware they can defy Gove. But the reality is they cower in the corner and obey orders because of league tables.

As I say, I wait for a campaign to put the student first. If it happens, I will be overjoyed.

Trevor Fisher

For retakes, it depends on resources. If the school does not have the resources, and many will not,

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 01/09/2014 - 07:43

Trevor - Can't agree with you about EBacc. It is in interests of all students of all abilities to be well educated from a broad and balanced curriculum, Ds in EBacc subjects are much more valuable than shedloads of Cs from 'vocational alternatives'.

It is the devaluing of grades below C that is the problem - not EBacc.

If heads and teachers cannot put their kids first then why should anyone listen to them about anything?

We need a teachers' equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath. No educational professional should be allowed to put personal career and institutional interests about the interests of their students.

The fact that we are assuming that they do, or 'must' even, is just a further example of the corruption and degradation of the education system through marketisation.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 01/09/2014 - 10:21

Roger - pupils can still study the subjects without having to take an exam in the subjects There's too much emphasis on the outcomes and not where it should be - on the process.

Time to dump high stakes exams at 16, as I keep saying.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 12/09/2014 - 13:21

Trevor - I agree with most of that. However I still think that the only problem with EBacc is in regarding grades less than C as not worth having, and by implication, any course of study in EBacc subject areas that does not produce at least a C is not worth following by a student and/or putting on by a school.

In my view the EBacc subjects should constitute the core curriculum for most students (exceptions should always be possible as judged by responsible heads) but with the expectation of the full range of grades from 1 - 9 on the new system, with teaching differentiated such that each grade for each student in each subject represents a significant gain in both knowledge and general cognitive ability.

This would only be like the standard TVEI curriculum that spread to most schools during the 1980s. The TVEI principle was that all future career related choices should remain open to all students at 16+ regardless of their school KS4 Option choices. In most schools Options were limited to two or three subjects, but considerable differentiation-based choices were possible within what was virtually an EBacc core.

I see EBacc as a step in the right direction to such a truly comprehensive, enabling and cognitively developmental curriculum for all students.

As for Janet's 'no exams at 16' argument, I remain of the view that this is dangerous because it would facilitate 14-18 vocationalism replacing broad and balanced general education from 14-16.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 12/09/2014 - 16:32

Roger - there is absolutely no reason why having no high stakes exams at 16 would results in 14-18 vocationalism. There could still be tests, even externally set ones, at 16 marking the end of lower secondary education. This is the system that operates in many countries which have graduation at 18 but the test/exams/whatever are used to decide post-16 progression and are not used to judge schools. These tests/exams/whatever could contribute to graduation at 18.

If such a system were in operation, the situation where a student was removed from a school at age 17 because s/he didn't pass tests at 17 would not occur. The student would have chosen the upper secondary course at 16 and would remain until graduation.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 12/09/2014 - 16:51

Janet - It is already happening with the establishment of 14-18 Vocational Colleges run by business/industry, even with current 16+ exams. These will at least preserve some 14-16 core entitlement through EBacc and give students some opt-out routes at 16 if they lose interest in making diggers etc.

No tests/exams should be used to judge schools anyway, as this always introduces perverse incentives. We only have them now in order to drive an artificially imposed market. There are much better ways of maintaining/improving standards and holding schools to account.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 12/09/2014 - 17:04

Roger - despite all the hoo-hah surrounding University Technology Colleges, very few young people attend them. One has already closed. Studio Schools, the smaller 14-18 schools, are often located within 11-18 schools, and are committed to broad and balanced curriculum to age 16. As David Nicoll wrote on the thread re Studio Schools:

"We have never really seen Studio Schools as vocational, but of course many of them have a specialism relating to a sector of the labour market. At GCSE they tend (not in every case) to follow traditional pathways (Maths, English, Sciences, etc), and some plan to offer the EBacc. Such specialisation that there is more likely to begin at post GCSE level."

If lower secondary ended at age 16, then it would be possible for 16 year-olds who wanted to leave a 14-18 UTC/Studio School to do so. Conversely, it would be possible for students from 11-16 schools to move to upper secondary provision at UTCs or Studio Schools in the same way that pupils can leave school at 16 and go to further education college.

Tracy's picture
Wed, 14/12/2016 - 21:02

Can a school kick my son off A-level maths . When he wants to continue, he was doing very badly but as in proved 35% in five weeks.

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