GCSE shake-up leaves many schools missing national progress targets

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Guardian

About 370 out of 3,000 schools in England likely to fall below Department for Education standards, The Guardian writes.

The introduction of new GCSEs this summer means nearly one in eight secondary schools in England is likely to fall below the government’s floor for pupil progress, according to the latest national figures.

The Department for Education’s provisional data for key stage four results reveal a messy picture caused by reformed GCSEs in English and maths taken for the first time this year, including a large jump in schools struggling to meet national progress targets.

Many schools’ deteriorating performance is the result of changes made by the DfE’s calculations in compiling league tables, rather than a worsening in their pupils’ attainment, according to analysis by the Education Datalab thinktank.

Last year, 288 schools failed to reach the government’s floor standard for pupil progress, meaning their pupils were averaging at least half a GCSE grade below national results. The new measures mean about 370 out of 3,000 schools are likely to fall below when the final figures are published.

The increase is a result of a new points system introduced to encompass the new grading scale running from 9 to 1 in the new format GCSEs, which critics claim is unfairly weighted towards those gaining top grades, where 7, 8 and 9 have replaced the old A and A* grades.

The overall national figures show that attainment was lower in 2017 than in 2016, but the DfE statisticians said compared with recalculated “shadow data” for 2016, the 2017 results were better than last year.

While the government’s attainment league tables were again dominated by selective schools – topped by the Henrietta Barnett girls’ grammar school in north London – the Progress 8 measure of improvement in pupil performance was packed with non-selective schools, including the high-flying Tauheedul Islam girls’ high school in Blackburn.

Forest Gate community school, a comprehensive academy in the London borough of Newham, also produced outstanding results, with pupils performing on average more than an entire GCSE grade higher than the progress made nationally. It outperformed the highest-ranked selective school, Tiffin girls’ school in Kingston upon Thames.

However, the national figures were disappointing for the government’s efforts to promote the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) suite of subjects. The take-up of pupils entering the EBacc fell to its lowest level since 2013, while the number achieving the EBacc dipped alarmingly, to just 21% of pupils.

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the government was “delusional” to expect 90% of pupils to enter the EBacc. “Too many children have been pushed on to inappropriate subject pathways and denied the opportunity to thrive in other valuable and challenging subjects,” he said.

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The major cause of the faltering EBacc – a performance measure based on taking specific subjects – appears to be falling numbers of pupils studying modern languages.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, described the overall results as excellent and applauded the higher numbers of pupils taking science.

“The fruits of the government’s reforms are best seen in the performance of free schools and academies, which have achieved some outstanding Progress 8 scores,” he said. “Often serving areas of significant disadvantage, these schools show that a rigorous curriculum and a strong behaviour ethos is crucial to driving up academic standards in all parts of the country.”

The concentration of the best performing schools around London concerned Russell Hobby, the chief executive of the Teach First education charity. “There continues to be a stubborn gap between the academic success of young people, simply because of where they were born,” he said. “The best results are clearly concentrated in London and the south, while performance in other regions shows too many pupils living in poorer communities face significant barriers to success.”

The same regional variations appeared in the key stage five results, where the highest performing local authorities at A-level were in outer London and south-east England. Sutton, Reading and Buckinghamshire were the top performing authorities based on average A-level points; the weakest were Knowsley and Salford in north-west England and Islington in inner London.

The national data for England showed A-level results remained stable, with a little over 26% of the 740,000 entries receiving A* or A grades, a slight increase on previous years.

For the 327,000 pupils taking academic A-levels in England, the proportion who achieved at least AAB rose slightly, from 21.6% to 21.8%, while the average grade overall rose from C to C+.

This summer also saw a continued decline in entries for AS levels, down by a further 40%, following the government’s move to make A-level courses linear and decouple them from AS-levels.

A-level results were again dominated by high-performing independent schools, where the average grade was a B. In state schools and further education colleges, the average grade ranged around C, with the exception of the nearly 2,000 pupils at university technical colleges and studio schools, who gained Ds on average.

Nearly 17% of independent school entries received A* grades, compared with more than seven per cent for mainstream state-funded schools.

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