Ministers’ crackdown on early and mutiple GCSE entry is pressurising schools to act against their pupils’ interests, heads’ leaders claimed today.
They are also furious that Michael Gove, education secretary, has accused some schools of using the tactic to “cheat”, and are warning that secondaries will find ways of working round the new rules.
The Department for Education said yesterday that future school league tables will only include pupils’ first attempt at a GCSE, rather than their best effort.
The change is not retrospective but, in core English Baccalaureate (EBac) GCSEs, will apply to all future exams and show up in January 2015 performance tables.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is concerned that schools have already entered pupils for GCSEs this November and will now feel under pressure to withdraw them.
“The school has used a strategy to try and enter people early so that they can have a go at it, they can build their confidence and they have got the option of re-sitting it later,” he said.
“But if [the resit] doesn’t count for the school and the school is going to go below the floor standard if they don’t pass [the first attempt] the school will be in a very, very difficult quandary.”
"I think a lot of schools will have to withdraw people from the exam now."
He said the association was getting feedback from “lots” of schools now changing their entry policies for pupils who had already begun courses. “It is just messing the students about,” he told TES.
“The reality of it is that if you are going to fall below the floor standard because of that decision and your job is on the line ... our fear is that they will not be able to sustain an early entry policy," he added. "They are being put under immense pressure to act against their pupils’ interests.”
Announcing the change, Mr Gove accused some schools of using early entries to “bank” C grades to improve league table positions.
“The school is in effect gaming the system by not thinking what is in the best interests of the student but using the student as a means of gathering points so that school itself can look better,” the education secretary told the Sunday Times. “That is, in a word, cheating. When a small minority cheat, the system is corrupted for the others. That has to stop.”
But Sir John Rowling, chair of the PiXL (Performance in Excellence) Club – a group of more than 700 secondary schools in England aimed at improving their exam results – said: “Our members resent being called cheats. They are infuriated and angry because it is offensive and demeaning.
“Cheating means breaking the rules,” he added. “Well, we are not breaking the rules because there aren’t any rules. In the opinion of ministers, it is not best practice. But they are not in schools dealing with kids every day. We know what is in the best interests of kids.
“I know of no parent who objects to their kid having two attempts, let us say, at passing a GCSE because the outcome is so, so, important for their future.”
Early and multiple GCSEs shot up this year leading to warnings that the phenomenon was preventing pupils’ achieving their full potential. Exam boards say figures show results of candidates 15 and under are “far lower” than 16-year-olds.
The DfE said it had made the change because it was better that pupils took exams “when they are ready”.
It said performance tables would still record the best result for pupils who had already taken a GCSE. But from now, for all other pupils, only their first attempt will count in tables. The change will come into effect for non-EBac subjects after summer 2014 and will be reflected in the January 2016 performance tables.
Sir John said he thought most PiXL members would continue to use early entries anyway because “they are doing it in the best interests of kids and not in the best interests of league tables”. “A lot of them are driven by moral purpose for the kids,” he said.
Mr Lightman said he was being contacted by academy chains which were angry because they had “based their whole school improvement” on “strategies” like early entry.
“I am getting some pretty heart-rending messages about this,” he said. “People are just saying ‘the rug’s being pulled from under our feet. Everything we were trying to do to get more children through exams we are being prevented from doing.'”
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