Poor Children Hit Harder by Covid School Closure (click here to read)

In their first collaboration since Alastair McCall joined CEER last month, he and Alan Smithers have analysed the impact of Covid on pupil performance. The stand-out finding is that poor children fared worse, falling even further behind at every level – the Sats, GCSEs and A-levels. Paradoxically, their grades had gone up in GCSEs and A-levels, but this can be attributed to the decision to bake in higher grades in 2022 than in 2019.

The Disadvantage Gap Index, which enables relative performance in different tests and exams to be compared, shows that the gap widened more in primary schools. Since the gap before the pandemic was greater in secondary schools, this had the effect of reducing it somewhat. All children, not just those taking national tests and examinations, will have been affected. Some will still be in schools into the 2030s. Is there a cure for education’s Long Covid?

Sunday Times’ Alastair McCall joins CEER

CEER welcomes Alastair McCall, one of the country’s leading data journalists and formerly assistant editor of The Sunday Times, as its Deputy Director and Professor of Quantitative Studies. He is famous as the man behind such annual publications as The Sunday Times Good University Guide, Parent Power, Rich List and Giving List. He also created the country’s first social inclusion ranking for universities.

It is a great appointment for CEER which was founded to conduct and communicate independent research that is directly useful to those creating education and those benefiting from it, rather than just producing papers for academics. Alastair’s skills and experience are a perfect fit for CEER’s mission and will add strength to its reach and range. Prof Alan Smithers, Director of CEER, and Alastair have an excellent working relationship having collaborated for over two decades on The Sunday Times’ schools guide, Parent Power.

Back to the Future? (click here to read)

GCSE results this year are likely to mirror those at A-level. The circumstances are very similar. In neither was it possible to hold examinations in 2020 and 2021 and grades were based on teacher assessment. In both, top grades shot up, girls went further ahead and some subjects, such as the performing arts and PE, gained a lot of extra top grades.

The return to exams could be expected to reverse these changes, especially as Ofqual has been asked by the Government to restore the grades to where they were in 2019 in two stages. At A-level, grades were reduced, the gap between girls and boys narrowed somewhat, and subjects benefitting from teacher assessment held on to more of their gains than might have been expected. Are these pointers to the GCSE results?

Return to Exams (click here to view report)

The 2022 A-level results are potentially the most interesting for many years. They come after two years of a Covid-driven experiment in which the grades were decided by the teachers. There was an explosion in top grades, a major swing to girls, and big increases in top grades in the performing arts and practical subjects. Will these changes be reversed by the return to exams? We have some clues. The Government has announced that the increase of 160,000 top grades during the two years of teacher assessment is to be halved this year. This is a necessary first step in restoring the value of the grades, but with 80,000 fewer top grades, thousands of students will miss out on the places they would have got last year. The hard work for these students did not end with the exams, but begins again on results-day in the chase for a university place.

Are Schools Failing Boys? (click here to read)

Boys are seriously underperforming girls at all levels of education, which would indicate that they are not fully developing their potential. While this has been known for some time, it is little understood and so little has been done about it. This means that both they and society are missing out on what they could have been. There is complacency because men seem to come out on top anyway.

There is a plethora of possible explanations, which means we do not sufficiently understand what is going on. This leaves us without a sound basis for tackling it. We need a high-level inquiry to sort it out. The seriousness of the issue is such that it calls for a Royal Commission.

Another Year of Teacher Assessment (click here to view report)

GCSE grades in the past two years have been decided by teachers. They reached a record high in 2020, which looks to be exceeded in 2021. Once again, girls have dominated, ahead of the boys by a record margin. They have outperformed them in all of the 30 most frequently taken subjects, except four in the maths and science area where boys were just ahead. The striking gap has been explained in a variety of ways, but could it mean girls are actually cleverer? The popularity of the high grades arising from teacher assessment strengthens the hand of those who want to ditch the exams.

Another Year of Grade Inflation? (click here to view report)

In 2020, there were the biggest ever rises in A-level grades. The pass rate hit 100%, A*/A grades jumped by more than 50%, and top grades in drama, media studies and PE more than doubled. The big question for 2021, where there has been more time to prepare, is will grades return to where they had been stabilised in the decade up to 2019, or will they repeat the gross inflation of 2020? Although students, parents and teachers are delighted with high grades, there is the danger of universities giving places to students who cannot cope and not to students who genuinely deserve one, damaging for the careers and wellbeing of both.

Where Next for Apprenticeships

In a policy report of the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development edited by Tess Lanning (report here), Alan Smithers argues that the introduction of national apprenticeship qualifications would turn the government’s hopes for the new apprenticeships into reality. At present, apprenticeships act as containers for numerous individual qualifications, some of doubtful value and little relevance. There is little to drive the development of tailored training programmes. National apprenticeship qualifications, the highest on par with degrees, would enhance the status of apprenticeships and help win acceptance of them as a genuine practical alternative to established academic ladders. Trainees would have something to aim for and something they could be proud of when successful. Distinctive qualifications would also enable the Government to claim ownership of the apprenticeship brand, fully integrate the maths, English and other core learning with the practical skills, and make apprenticeships easier to regulate. The Government recognizes the problems an apprenticeship qualification would solve, but prefers other piecemeal solutions. It would be so much simpler to have national apprenticeship qualifications.

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