The GCSE results published in August 2012 have been like no others. From the moment of their release there was turmoil. It was only quieted when a judicial review in February determined that Ofqual and the exam boards had acted lawfully.
There has nevertheless been considerable fallout. A number of pupils and schools feel cheated; Ofqual is making immediate changes to the GCSE examinations; and the separation of GCSEs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is on the cards.
GCSE 2012 (click here to view) looks at the data behind the uproar. The impact of the new Ofqual is evident. Changes in the pattern of entries can be traced to the Ebac.
Other highlights include: English and maths are among the subjects with the lowest pass rates at C and above; girls continue to be well ahead of boys; and England has overtaken Wales and is catching up on Northern Ireland.
|Confusion in the Ranks
Countries are increasingly comparing themselves in education league tables. But how is it that England can be 27th and sixth at the same time?
Confusion in the Ranks (click here to view) highlights three reasons. England comes higher when fewer of the top-performing countries take part. Random fluctuations are treated as real differences. England gets to be as high as sixth when some unsound data are added.
East Asian countries fill the top places whenever they take part. The schools need not be better. Chinese children star in England. It could be hard work, personality, or ‘tiger mothers’. The tests are also taken much more seriously.
Not only do education league tables vary, but there is also the spin that is put upon them. The Labour government celebrated the results as evidence of the success of its initiatives; the Coalition government has taken a gloomy view to make the case for reform.
A-Levels 2012 (click here to view) shows 2012 was the year when Ofqual’s ‘comparable outcomes’ policy really began to bite. The percentage achieving at least a B was held at 52.6%, and there was a fall of 0.4% in A*/As.
Most subjects identified as core by the government and universities gained entries, but modern languages and computing continued to decline. Critical thinking and general studies took big hits.
Girls were 5.0% ahead at A*-C and 1.4% ahead at A*/A, but boys were just in front at A*, in spite of girls doing better in 28 of the 36 subjects. The boys’ lead overall is due to their preponderance in high scoring subjects like further maths, maths and physics.
Northern Ireland’s A*/A grades fell sharply as it has moved away from grammar schools. England has overtaken Wales in the past decade perhaps due to its use of accountability measures.
|Making 14-18 Education a Reality
Education in England lacks a clear shape. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the final years of secondary schooling. Raising the participation age to 18 creates the opportunity to design an array of academic, practical, creative and occupational pathways to take people forward to university, training, employment and future lives.
The GCSE is no longer needed as a school leaving examination. It could be dropped to treat education 14-18 as a coherent whole.
Entry to a particular pathway should be by choice providing that entry requirements had been met. The first year of the pathways could be an orientation year to confirm that the right choices had been made. Examinations at the end of lower secondary education would provide an objective basis for making the choices.
Read more in Kenneth Baker (ed.) 14-18 A New Vision for Secondary Education, London Bloomsbury, 2013
|Where’s Best for Teacher Training
In The Good Teacher Training Guide 2012 (click here to view) the Centre for Education and Employment Research compares 214 providers on entry qualifications, Ofsted grades, newly qualified teachers’ ratings, and employment in teaching.
Teachers trained in schools are more likely to get a job and rate their training highly than teachers trained on university courses. The universities recruit trainees with better degrees and are more likely to receive an outstanding grade from Ofsted. But Ofsted inspections appear to miss the point of teacher training: the grades bear no relation to entry to teaching.
Of the individual providers the Billericay Educational Consortium comes top followed by the King Edward’s Consortium, with the University of Cambridge third. There was wide variation, with the same providers among the also-rans each year.
|England Neglects the Brightest
Educating the Highly Able (Click here to view) shows that England lags far behind other countries in educating the brightest. ‘Gifted and Talented’ is too broad a construct to be the basis of sensible policy and should be scrapped. The focus should be on those capable of excellence in major school subjects.
A first step would be to hold schools to account for the progress of the highly able. Current measures are pitched at the lowest and middling performers. Bright pupils from poor homes are most likely to miss out through being isolated in unsuccessful schools.
Other countries bring together the brightest. There is no need for GCSEs when the leaving age is raised to 18. They should be replaced by a national examination at 14. An array of pathways post 14 could then be allowed to emerge on the model of the university technical colleges.