Let me rewind the clock for you a bare two months, a scant eight weeks ago. Our Controlled Assessments had been marked, our students had sat their exams, we had thought their exams were fair and accessible. Even the kids were happy with them – as happy as teenagers can be having been cooped up for a couple of hours writing.
Now fast forward to last Wednesday. The night before the results are due. Kids and their parents may or may not have been aware that schools would have had their examination results on Wednesday. They may or may not have been aware that there was a bubble of concern, disbelief and horror burbling informally around Twitter.
They may well have woken on Thursday to the beginnings of the bursting of that bubble. Results down; historic end to grade inflation; English grades down. Perhaps they will recall all the stern-faced serious teachers and Principals telling them how their future absolutely depended on their English grade. Maybe their parents were staring hopefully at the offer letter from sixth form colleges asking for a C grade.
And this is the mood in which kids came to get their results: hopeful, confused, worried and scared.
And results were down in English nationally.
Now, we sit OCR, an examination board renowned for rigorous marking and tough assessment. Having done a brief investigation of the web and OCRs website it is absolutely clear to me that the grade boundary shifted massively between January and June 2012.
Let’s look at the C/D boundaries as, in my school as in all others, this is often the focus of Senior Leadership Focus. In my school, this was basically my teaching group and this bunch of kids sat the English examination rather than the Language and Literature specifications. Ironically, because we felt it gave them a greater chance of getting a C grade.
Looking at the A*-C rates however, it looks like we were totally wrong! OCR nationally awarded 35% of students A*-C in English and 85% in Language. That is such a staggeringly vast distance between these success rates it can only really indicate that English is being viewed as poor cousin to Language.
For those who don’t know, there are three “English” course: English is a standalone qualification; Language and Literature are two distinct qualifications and, combined, constitute a wider course with more reading the English. Not harder but wider.
So, we went through the course over the past two years. There are three pieces of Controlled Assessments:
1. Reading Literary Texts – which requires three essays on three texts;
2. Imaginative Writing; and
3. Speaking and Listening
and there is one examination testing students reading of unseen media and non-fiction texts and original writing.
In January 2012 – in fact in every examination series between the introduction of this course two years ago and January 2012 – the grade boundary for a C was 21 – 25 marks. That means that an essay submitted in January marked at 23 would receive a good solid C grade.
In June 2012 the grade boundaries were
which means, to me, that the same essay, still meeting the criteria for 23 marks, is now graded as a D.
Now I may be wrong. Numbers and statistics are not my strongest point. But how can that be fair?
In what world can that be deemed anything but grossly unfair? Let me share with you an open letter sent by the National Association of Head Teachers to Michael Gove
I write to share NAHT’s grave concerns about the circumstances surrounding this year’s GCSE examinations, with particular reference to English Language. It has become apparent that grade boundaries were significantly altered between the January and June examinations series and the consequence of this has been that the overall requirement for attaining a C grade increased by ten marks between January and June.
These adjustments appear to have been made because of unsubstantiated concerns that there was too high a pass rate emerging from the January series.
NAHT believes that this is an iniquitous and unfair state of affairs, discriminating against those pupils whose schools took the decision to enter them in June. The decision will have serious consequences for those pupils adversely affected. In many cases, this may well prevent them from taking up opportunities to pursue A Level courses. This situation offends natural justice and is, quite simply, unfair. If no action is taken it could also risk doubt being cast on the reliability of the grades awarded to the January cohort.
We are asking you to instigate an independent enquiry as to how this situation was allowed to occur. We believe that there is a course of action that could begin to address the manifest unfairness of the situation and restore confidence in the examination system. This involves the re-grading of June entrants using the same criteria applied in assessing the work of January entrants. However, only a full, independent enquiry will start to assuage the universal outcry from pupils, parents and school leaders alike against this appalling situation.
I am sending a similar letter to Glenys Stacey.
Doesn’t look like it is just me then!
What’s more, the grade boundaries have risen across the board but, by far, the most marked rise is at the most critical point: the C/D borderline. The A* boundary has risen by a mark; the C boundary by 4 marks; the G boundary by 1 mark. Now, I can accept that statistically you would expect a bell curve like that. But that bell curve is disproportionately affecting C/D borderline kids. The kids who need that C grade to progress to the next level of their education or their jobs.
And it creates a perfect storm for schools: at the same time that Michael Gove is demanding increasing A*-C grade levels from schools, pushing the benchmark level up from 35% to 40%, the exam boards are slashing the numbers of kids who are getting the C grade. Has Gove put pressure on the exam boards? Have instructions or indications been given, implicitly or explicitly by Gove?
I suppose that’s for someone else to decide.