Head slams exams watchdog for 'moving GCSE goalposts'

19th November 2010 at 00:00
'Arrogant' QCDA rules physiology and health qualification will not count in league tables

A secondary head has attacked exam authorities for "moving the goalposts" after they ruled a GCSE would not count in the league tables two years after his pupils had begun studying for it.

Graham Lloyd, head of Holly Hall School in Dudley, hit out at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) for acting with "arrogance" in its decision over the AQA GCSE in human physiology and health. About 30 Holly Hall pupils opted for the course in 2008. The school timetabled a full 120 hours' teaching for the qualification, believing it would count as an extra GCSE in the performance tables.

But this June, after the pupils had already sat the GCSE, the QCDA ruled it would not count towards school league table scores where pupils had also sat an "additional science" or biology GCSE because it did not need another 120 hours' teaching. Most of the Holly Hall pupils fell into that category and a "furious" Mr Lloyd said his school will suffer as a result.

"For them (QCDA) to make that decision on 23 June is unreasonable," he said. "It doesn't affect the pupils - that is fine, they have the qualification.

"But for a school like mine, in a challenging area where a lot of important decisions are made on this kind of data, it could be devastating."

Mr Lloyd also warned that Holly Hall's contextual value-added score was among the top 7 per cent in the country last year, but that it could lose much of that because of the QCDA's decision.

"We have done our job for these children but as a school we won't get any credit for it because their results have just been ignored," he said.

But Lin Hinnigan, QCDA acting chief executive, said the issue of league table points would have "no impact whatsoever" on the pupils.

"The policy for how school league tables are compiled, and what does or doesn't count, is the responsibility of the Department for Education," she said. "The DfE makes the decisions on what changes are made and the timing of those changes."

But when Mr Lloyd wrote to the QCDA, asking who he should contact at the DfE, he was told, in an e-mail seen by The TES, that department officials had confirmed "it is the responsibility of the QCDA to make changes to the discounting codes (league table measures)".

The QCDA official also told the head that contacting the department was "not an appropriate route" for him to challenge the decision.

Sue Kirkham, Association of School and College Leaders education policy specialist, said: "The science regulations about what counts and what doesn't in the performance tables is incredibly complex and yet another example of why our exam system should be simplified."

She said that if the complexity of the system is to remain, it is essential to have greater transparency.

A DfE spokesman said: "Young people should be entered for the qualifications that are in their best interests. Ministers are clear in their commitment to reform league tables and will set out further details in due course."

Keeping score

The AQA spec

The GCSE is designed to ensure that pupils:

- acquire a systematic body of scientific knowledge and the skills needed to apply this in new and changing situations;

- acquire an understanding of scientific ideas and how they develop;

- plan and carry out a range of investigations;

- evaluate, in terms of their scientific knowledge and understanding, the benefits and drawbacks of scientific and technological developments;

- select, organise and present information clearly and logically, using appropriate scientific terms and conventions.

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