Lawrence Baker*, headteacher at a secondary school in Sheffield, says that far more GCSE grades have been changed this year than usual, following appeals.
“Our biggest concern has been with English,” he says. “We’ve seen stability in our department for three to four years now. Our English results have been a strength of the school and we had the same staff teaching English as last year.”
Despite this apparent stability, the school saw a 12 per cent year-on-year drop in the proportion of pupils obtaining grade 4s and 5s in GCSE English.
“That really hurt us. I had the head of English in the room on the day we saw the results, distraught, because she’s an English examiner herself. She said, ‘I just don’t get it.’”
One “devastated” pupil had received top grades in every subject but was awarded only a 7 in English – which would have barred her from the veterinary course she hoped to study later on.
Her grade was uplifted to an 8 on re-mark, but, “When she looks back at her results day, the only thing she’ll remember is being upset about her English mark,” Baker says.
Around 45 pupils’ English GCSE grades were re-marked in total at Baker’s school, of which 30 resulted in upgrades. None were downgraded.
Baker is concerned that the school performance statistics published by the Department for Education will not be updated to take account of re-marks until well after the deadline for secondary applications.
“That has a massive impact on our Progress 8 score [because] English is double-weighted.
“It could have a serious impact on parents’ decisions on where to send their children to school.”
Baker believes that the problem comes down to a lack of suitable examiners.
This is partly because of a growing shortage of “quality” English teachers, he says, and also because of growing workloads within departments.
“Most staff are thinking ‘It’s really hard being a teacher right now – and to take on extra work, where do I find the time’?”
His school tries to encourage teachers to become markers by offering more flexible working patterns towards the end of the summer term.
*Not their real name