Education officials, head teachers and a teachers’ union in Suffolk have warned that changes in the way GCSE exam results are recorded nationally mean Suffolk’s position in official performance tables could drop this year.
For several years, students have been able to take their GCSE early. This means that if they get the result they expected, they can then focus on other subjects for their final exams. If they don’t, they can re-sit them in the summer. The student’s best grade was recorded as part of the school’s, county’s and overall national results.
However, changes to the way results are recorded, brought in from the end of September 2013, mean that if a student takes an ‘early entry’ exam, only that grade will be recorded in official figures – regardless of whether or not the student re-takes the exam and gets a better grade at a later date.
Because of this change, any county that has a relatively high proportion of students taking early entry exams could see their results appear to drop, even if students are actually doing better. As some Suffolk schools have a large number of students taking exams early, some of the county’s educational professionals have raised concerns that official figures could falsely portray a declining picture.
Madeleine Vigar, principal at Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill and chair of Suffolk Association of Secondary Head teachers (SASH), said: “It is important to be aware of the fact that the way that the GCSE results are recorded in the national league tables will not be an accurate reflection of the grades students actually achieve in August 2014.
“Year 11 students in Suffolk schools have worked extremely hard this year. They have been ably supported by school leaders and teachers to achieve the very best that they can. Students’ final GCSE examination grades will indicate that they have made good and outstanding progress.
“SASH members find that the November examination results spur students on, giving them the confidence to aspire and progress further in their studies. How many people fail their driving test the first time and then go on to become excellent drivers?”
Sue Cook, Suffolk County Council’s director of children’s services, said: “The first thing I want to stress about this change is that students will not be affected. They will still be awarded the best result they achieve, and rightly so.
“The problem comes when schools, and the local authority, are judged against other areas. Put simply, the best results achieved following the hard work and dedication of the students and their teachers are unlikely to be fully reflected in the league tables.
“We recognise that this is national government policy but have serious concerns about the extent to which it will impact on Suffolk.”
Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, echoed those concerns. He said: “Suffolk teachers want the best for all of their pupils. Pupils gain by being given the maximum opportunity to achieve the best grades in as many subjects as they can. The government’s league table approach is not helpful in reflecting how well Suffolk pupils have done. We have a concern that because of this unfair league table approach there may be some discouragement to take exams early.”