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A-Levels 2012

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.

GCSE 2012

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.

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.

Is there a ‘Sweet Spot’ for Selection in Education?

Click here to view

Little in education is more hotly contested than selection. At age 11 it carries a lot of emotional baggage, but at ages 16 and 18 it is readily accepted. Is this too late?

Unlike most other OECD countries, which often allow four or more years, we attempt to squeeze into just two years at the end of secondary schooling the pathways that carry young people forward to their future lives.

Guided choices at age 14 would put us on par. Could this be the ‘sweet spot’? About 10% of 15-year-olds persistently truant from the exclusively academic curriculum.

An array of equivalent pathways, some academic as now, but alongside them high quality technical, creative, practical and vocational programmes would be good for the young people and for us all as we benefited from their enhanced skills.

A-Levels 2011: The year grade inflation came to a halt?

2011 seems to be the year that the examiners have finally decided that enough is enough when it comes to grade inflation. CEER’s independent Annual Review of A-Levels (click here to view) says this year’s results are also notable for the disappearance of the gender gap at the highest level. The introduction of A* is evidently picking up the wider spread in the performance of boys. Alice Heim, a distinguished Cambridge psychologist, tongue in cheek, once called this ‘the mediocrity of women’. There has been some swing back to the sciences, but numbers in physics are only three-fifths of what they were thirty years ago. There are continuing falls in Geography, French and German, and the Performing Arts, PE and Law have also dropped. Results in Northern Ireland, though still well ahead of England and Wales, have fallen back this year for both boys and girls, perhaps not unconnected with changes to the school system there. Wales once ahead of England has fallen further behind.

GCSE 2011: Twenty-Four Years of Rising Grades

CEER’s independent Annual Review of GCSEs (click here to view) shows that GCSE results have risen for the 24th year, but not in Northern Ireland where there was a sharp fall, and Wales where they have been static.  Could this have anything to do with the changes to their education systems?  The gender gap is widening with girls further ahead than ever in A*/A grades.  Controlled assessment has had little impact on the results, so it will be interesting to see what end-of-course assessment will do.  The sciences have continued to revive thanks to Gordon Brown, but are still well short of their 1988 levels.  Geography and modern languages have been in decline for two decades, and wait for the EBac to rescue them.  Entries have fallen generally, more than the age cohort.  The only gainers besides the sciences are religious studies, social sciences and ‘other subjects’, including citizenship studies.  Not something one fancies that will please the Government.

Where is the Best Teacher Training? Oxford, Cambridge, or Billericay?

CEER’s Good Teacher Training Guide 2011 (Click here to view) compares 227 university, school-centred and employment-based providers of teacher training on entry qualifications, Ofsted grades and take-up of teaching posts.

The report also considers proposed government reforms of teacher training and attempts quantitative answers to such questions as: ‘Is school-led training better?’; ‘Will £20,000 bursaries work?’; ‘Is Teach First the answer?’; ‘Are the degrees of new teachers getting better?’; ‘Has Ofsted lost its rigour?’; and, ‘What if the trainees don’t become teachers?’.

The Billericay Educational Consortium, one of the two pioneers of school-centred teacher training, is the best for teacher training in England. Oxford University comes second and Cambridge University third. Southfields Community College (Wandsworth), one of the first Training Schools, is also in the top ten, where six of the places are taken by school-led schemes.

Unintelligent Design

See Equity and Disadvantage, pages 34-38, here

Politicians everywhere are keen to improve education.  But too often they home in on individual schools rather than designing an equitable system for all.  Supposed panaceas such as specialist schools, charter schools or free schools are uncritically copied.  Improvements in individual schools, however, are not necessarily improvements overall.  Schools can advance at the expense of others by creaming their intakes.  The main factor in the performance of a school is the children who go there.  Increasing the differences between schools leaves a child’s education ever more dependent on the parents’ resources and willingness to fight for places in the best.  In the world of education at least, intelligent design is the answer.

Who Wrecked National Curriculum Science?

See 1987 campaign document here.

Michael Gove, and before him Gordon Brown, have spoken powerfully in favour of a return to the teaching of physics, chemistry and biology in schools. They want to rescue national curriculum science from the theme-based integrated mix that it has become, taught mainly by biologists. But how did school science become what it is? The Royal Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Engineering Council, no less, are ultimately to blame. They were among 16 organisations that pushed for the double award balanced science. Their campaigning led, among other things, to the collapse of A-level entries in physics and university applications in engineering. There have recently been signs of a revival in physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs, but should they ever have been swept aside in the first place?

Educating the Especially Able

Successive governments have struggled to put together coherent policies for the ‘Gifted and Talented’. Programmes have barely started before they have been binned. CEER has been awarded a grant by the Sutton Trust to find out what is actually happening on the ground. We’d be delighted to hear from you if you have evidence and/or comments about the current state of play (contact us).

Impact of PISA and TIMSS

Regular cycles of international achievement studies have become an established part of the education scene. Politicians frequently quote them if they appear to back favoured policies. But what impact are they actually having on education itself? CEER has been commissioned to report on and assess the effects. We’d welcome examples, particularly from the OECD, but also other participating countries (contact us).

Alan Smithers reviewed The Impact of International Achievement Studies on National Education Policy Making (editor Alexander W. Wiseman, publisher Emerald, ISBN-10 0857244493, pp 358+xxii.) in the March 2011 issue of Parliamentary Brief (Click here to view).

Single-Sex Education

One of the most emotional topics in education is whether the sexes should be taught together or separately. CEER’s view is that taken alongside such factors as the quality of the head and teachers, the abilities of the children, and the support of parents, it has much less effect than is supposed. Single-sex education became the norm because initially only boys were taught in schools (girls if they were formally educated at all had governesses). Now the pendulum has swung decisively to coeducation – not always for educational reasons. We develop this argument in The Times on 4 February 2011; Dr Helen Wright, President of the Girls’ Schools Association puts the case for single-sex education.

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