Tag Archives: NAHT

Ofqual’s report on GCSE English Results (and some interesting links)

Somewhat late in the day on Friday 31st of August – its tardiness (due originally at 10:30 and delivered at about 4:00) prompting an awful lot of comments on Twitter about missed deadlines and handing in homework late – Ofqual reported on the GCSE English and Language grading row.

Their finding was that there was nothing wrong with the June grading and that they will stand: the January gradings were overly generous. Indeed Glenys Stacey, Chief Executive of Ofqual, in a BBC interview here describes students on January as having had a lucky break. What an appalling way of describing the hard work and effort our students put into their work!

The key findings are reported on the Ofqual News Page here

And for those with the nerve, the full report is here

These are, perhaps, the most salient parts of the report:

“People were particularly concerned about the June grade boundaries. We have found that examiners acted properly, and set the boundaries using their best professional judgement, taking into account all of the evidence available to them. The June boundaries have been properly set, and candidates’ work properly graded.

“The issue is not the June, but the January boundaries. Again, examiners used their best judgement in setting these boundaries, but they had less data and information to work with. Most candidates were not sitting at the time, they were waiting for June, and because they were new qualifications, examiners could not rely so much on direct comparisons with the past. As a result, those grade boundaries were set generously.

“We have thought carefully about what should be done, and spoken with external assessment experts about it. Our job is to maintain standards over time, so grades awarded are comparable from one year to the next.

“We have spoken to exam boards and they have been very responsive. Recognising the strength of feeling, they will be offering early resits for students who sat the June units. We will now go through our analysis and evidence with the representative groups for schools and colleges, so they can see it for themselves. We will also talk with schools, exam boards and assessment experts to see what lessons can be learnt and what can be done better in the future”

What this means is that the June grades will stand: the verdict is that they were the correct grades.

Now, it seems to me that this is not quite the independent review that the NAHT had demanded and there are going to be an awful lot of people who took exams in January who are now going to feel very undermined and undervalued, even though Ofqual have very generously said that they will not be downgrading the results from January.

Ofqual are saying that only 7% of candidates submitted in January and therefore there were too few candidates from which to properly grade and level work. Yet they still did it. It seems to me that if 7% is too few to accurately grade a qualification, it ought not to be offered.

Perhaps a mimimum uptake should have been put in place and unless sufficient numbers of students are submitted, the entry is denied. If one candidate alone had attempted to submit their GCSE in January, would they have been permitted to? Is it an inalienable right to take a qualification in circumstances where there is no way of accurately grading you?

7% of the GCSE entrants is also, however, quite a large number. One wonders as to the mechanics of this: when does the figure become sufficient? At 10% entry? At 15%? At 25%? I must confess I have not read the full report and those questions may be answered within it…

Ofqual says also that

Understandably, schools were over-reliant on the January 2012 boundaries to set expectations as there was little other information available to them.

Again, certainly for OCR this is not entirely accurate: raw mark grade boundaries are available for 3 cycles prior to June 2012 and they are all broadly consistent with the January 2012 grade boundaries. This blog post includes the grade boundaries and their changes from January 2011 to June 2012.

However, if we accept the point that there were insufficient submissions in January 2012 to accurately assess grades, there must have been even fewer in the first two cycles in 2011 when the course was only 6 and 12 months old respectively.

A big question that could be asked is: to what extent did examination boards warn centres that the January 2012 (or previous) raw mark grade boundaries could not and should not be relied upon? Personally, I know that I telephoned the exam board for clarification on grade boundaries and – in a telephone call I do specifically recall, followed up by an email link to the raw score grade boundaries – was told to refer to the Jan and June 2011 grade boundaries.

Also, are we to accept that Ofqual and the examination boards had no idea that this was likely to be a problem? Reports in the media suggest that this situation was anticipated three years before.

Huffington Post

TES

What was done to warn and alert centres? According to Ofqual’s news page

Exam boards will review the advice and guidance they give to schools about GCSE English including its structure, how grade boundaries are set and how they should be used.

which to me suggests and implies that the advice previously given has been minimal and / or unreliable and / or misleading.

So, putting ourselves into the position of a young man who has believed for two years that he has been working at a C grade only to be rewarded with a D, what have Ofqual offered him?

1. the opportunity to withdraw an application for remarking at no cost; and

2. the chance to resit his examinations in November 2012.

If this hypothetical young man has lost a place on a sixth form course or an apprenticeship or a college placement or employment, one wonders what sort of help this two-month early retake will be if his place has already been filled by someone else.

I also wonder what the sixth form schools and colleges’ stance is: are they adhering strictly to their original offers that expected a C-grade in English? Or are they using a wider discretion to admit students who have a D-grade?

Whilst Ofqual’s report has clarified some issues, I think there are still a range of concerns and questions that still need to be addressed and I wonder how long it will be before parents and / or unions attempt to make a legal challenge.

A response from ASCL is repeated on TES here and Steven Twigg, Shadow Education Secretary here. This is The Independent’s report. And Geoff Barton blogged about the situation on his always thoughtful blog here.

It is now looking as if a Parliamentary Inquiry is likely, according to The Guardian which claims it

looks all but inevitable

that Michael Gove will be summoned to give evidence.

This is, despite the headline, a very interesting article in the second half, showing an examiner’s point of view.

Somewhat uninspiringly – though perhaps predictably – out learned Prime Minister’s response is to “brush aside” the concerns of parents, students and teachers

saying he planned further moves to reverse ‘dumbing down’ and that he refused to ‘cave in’ to teaching unions who want to ‘pretend standards are rising each year’.

He added: ‘ “All must have prizes” is not just patronising, it is cruel – and with us it is over.’

Mr Cameron said there would be ‘no more excuses for failure in schools; no more soft exams and soft discipline’.

How terribly disappointing to our Prime Minister so completely failing to see the depth of concern and anger that this has generated, failing to understand the actual issue and continuing to undermine a profession which has nothing but the best interests of children at its heart.

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GCSE English Results 2012

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

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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

Dear Michael

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.

Yours sincerely

Russell Hobby
General Secretary

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.