Geoff Barton: "My impression is that students who should have an A* or A have got a grade lower."

15th August 2013 at 11:07

Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, writes:

My sleepless night wasn’t actually last night. It was on Tuesday – the night before the advance release of A-level results that heads and principals receive each year.
For my past 28 years as an English teacher I’ve lost sleep over results and I know from comments in school this morning and from over-night activity on Twitter and Facebook that lots of students had a predictably fitful night.
I’m also very aware from encounters at the supermarket and from seeing nervous adults skulking in the school undergrowth that many of our students’ parents didn’t sleep brilliantly last night either. They’re pacing nervously in reception as I type. One has offered to fetch me coffee.
They all know how much these results matter, how much rests upon them. They also have a strong sense of faith in the value of A-levels.
But I think I can safely name one person who won’t have lost sleep over A-level results last night: the education secretary.
He has too often denigrated the qualification. His peremptory wielding of an axe to modular courses was welcomed by some, but it was hard nonetheless not to sense that it was based on narrow, nostalgic instinct rather than evidence-based decision-making.
And Mr Gove has also made an extraordinarily ill-advised decision to decouple A/S levels from the final grade. As we learnt from last week’s TES, in so doing he has succeeded in alienating many of those independent school heads he so often seems to hold up to us poor saps in the state sector as educational role models.
According to former HMC chair Andrew Grant, some of them are talking of ditching traditional A-levels and heading south to some international manifestation of the qualification.
My impression today is that what the ever-faithful Daily Telegraph is describing as a ‘crackdown’ on top grades in order to (cliche alert) ‘restore the gold standard of A-levels’ may mean that students across the country who should have gained an A* or A in maths have gained a grade lower.
That’s how it feels at our school today – lots of happiness, but also a sense that top-end students have missed out on top-end grades for reasons not of their making.
Again, I suspect it’s not something the education secretary will lose sleep about.
But I do, and many of my colleagues will. Because from where I’m sitting the political sniping and endless tinkering with A-levels may create headlines and generate attention-grabbing soundbites.
However, it doesn’t help us working in schools, or parents, or, most importantly, our students.


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