‘Fine schools for students who fail GCSE Maths and English’
Policy Exchange press release
, 25 August 2015
You would think from the headline that Policy Exchange was suggesting fining schools for every pupil judged U in GCSE Maths and English because U (or X) is a fail according to Government Data
. You would be wrong. The think-tank is suggesting schools pay a £500 levy for every pupils who doesn’t reach Grade C – it makes that clear further down the article.
It would appear, then, that not reaching Grade C is a ‘fail’.
Unfortunately this isn’t new. For several years politicians, the media and employers have divided GCSE grades into ‘good’ grades (Grade C or better) and other grades (Grades D-G) which are not ‘good’. This implies these lower grades are ‘bad’, ‘worthless’ and ‘poor’. They are fails.
But GCSEs Grades D-G are not fails. They show achievement at Level One.
According to the House of Commons’ Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Adult Literacy and Numeracy report
, Level 1 literacy and numeracy skills equate ‘to a D to G grade in GCSEs, and is judged to be the level of skill needed for adults to function effectively in society.’
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan was a member of the BIS Committee for some time during the last Parliament but she seems not to have read her Committee’s report. In the scramble for results, only GCSE C and above count. The Education and Adoption Bill passing through Parliament describes a new school category – ones that are ‘coasting’. Coasting secondary schools are those where ‘in 2014 and 2015 fewer than 60% of children achieve 5 A* to C including English and mathematics and they are below the median level of expected progress and in 2016 they fall below a level set against the new progress 8’.
In other words, secondary schools where fewer than 60% achieve 5 Level 2 exams including English and maths will be regarded as ‘coasting’ if progress falls below the median. They are then likely to be subject to intervention (ie academy conversion). No value at all is placed on exams passed at Level 1 despite this standard being regarded as foundation level. And pupils who don’t achieve GCSE C in Maths and English are required to keep on studying the two courses until they reach GCSE C.
The Government and others are fixated on GCSE C. Yet, as the BIS Committee pointed out, there are other ways to improve literacy and numeracy than repeating the GCSE path. The Committee recommended the Government move away from its obsession with linear assessment and be more flexible. Providing training in contextual skills which match literacy and numeracy with particular jobs and practising functional skills, as happens in the Army, could be more effective. The Committee wasn’t convinced GCSE C should be the gold standard.
But, as we’ve seen, anything less than a GCSE C is perceived as having no value. Getting less than a C in English and maths is viewed as failing to ‘master’ these core subjects
. But Grades D-G show a pupil has sufficient proficiency to be at Level 1 and to function in the modern world. To describe this level as failure is a slight to young people on the bottom rung of the performance ladder and to those who have taught them. It reduces the value of all Level 1 certificates to zero. And it risks downplaying these pupils’ achievement to such an extent it will create a perverse incentive for schools to deter pupils unlikely to reach Level 2. Yet these pupils are as deserving of education as those who will sail past the Grade C threshold. Neither they nor their teachers should be regarded as having ‘failed’
This myth doesn't appear in The Truth About Our Schools: Exposing the myths, exploring the evidence
, an updated and extended version of our e-book School Myths: And the Evidence that Blows them Apart (no longer available), which will be published by Routledge on 27 November 2015.
5 September 2015 09.33 TES
reports new research by Professor Peter Urwin, professor of applied economics at the University of Westminster, which claims earlier research into the value of lower level vocational qualifications was based on 'more limited data' and had underestimated the returns from FE learning at level 2 and below'. Note the description 'Level 2 and below'. This confirms that Level 1 courses DO have value.
A BIS spokesperson told TES: “We welcome the analysis by Peter Urwin. The research highlights the importance of low-level qualifications to improving learners’ life chances, social mobility and productivity for the wider economy.”