Busted! Schools’ tricks to inflate science grades revealed!

Tricks used by some schools in England to inflate GCSE science results will be revealed at a conference today.

Some schools switch weaker pupils to BTecs, coursework-based vocational qualifications equivalent to GCSEs, and falsify their marks, claims research.

Author Birendra Singh spent five years observing science teaching in three unnamed London schools. He observed lessons and carried out interviews with teachers and pupils on an anonymous basis. He said some of the practices uncovered left him “absolutely shocked”.

Mr Singh, a former science teacher with 17 years’ experience, who has also worked as an Ofsted inspector, carried out the research for a doctorate at University of London’s Institute of Education. The aim of his research was to observe methods of marking, assessment and feedback to pupils. “They knew the process would be completely professional, that they could withdraw at any time and that the names of teachers and schools would not be revealed. They trusted me. Yes. They volunteered information that I had not been seeking,” he stated.

He said that questions to teachers on how the BTec marking process worked led to some surprising answers which are outlined in papers to be presented to the British Educational Research Association conference in Brighton.

One report includes conversations with teachers from July this year at a school where pupils judged unlikely to gain C grades in science GCSEs had been switched to BTecs in March, just six weeks before the courses were due to end. The report suggests that some 110 pupils or 30% of the year group were swapped to BTec at the eleventh hour.

Teachers were asked to help the students complete 18 months of coursework in a fraction of the time and also, it is claimed, in some cases to “invent” or “falsify” grades to ensure they passed the BTec course, worth two good GCSE passes.

The report also suggests that BTec grade manipulation also took place at a second school. Both schools have been rated “good” by Ofsted, adds the report.

In July, Pearson, the exam board that runs the BTec qualification, asked the first school for samples of pupils’ work to moderate the marking. According to the report, teachers were ordered by the deputy head to produce the coursework, leading to a stressful situation just before the end of the school year. As if our job isn’t stressful enough, as this teacher eludes to. They said, “Nobody had bothered to get these kids to complete coursework – just give them a C. Now we are having to get them to complete their coursework. I mean copy, or we tell them what and how to do it.” Another complains of “panic management”, saying that some pupils had already left school and were having to be brought in specially to complete the work. They are getting nothing out of this. Copy that, copy that, copy that. Then we are marking it and if it gets moderated and we are told it is not right we will have to call the kids in again. Effectively I will just slip it through.”

Now this study is only on a small scale, but Mr Singh believes that this may be indicative ‘of a bigger picture which needs focused attention’. He basically thinks that these schools are not alone in this. Why would schools do this? Well, league tables of course. We all know that league tables govern a school’s standing and reputation in the world, which means that the more achieving 5 A*-C grades, the better the school looks. Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that these league tables create ‘false incentives’ for teachers who try to push as many students as possible to achieve a C grade. This is almost implying that teachers will do whatever it takes to get this result, which will certainly question in my mind as to why a teacher who has gone through all the training required and has learnt the knowledge of being professional will suddenly do the most unprofessional route for kids as possible.

Pearson has been quick to condemn this kind of behaviour. A Pearson spokeswoman described behaviour of this kind as “unacceptable and not in the best interest of students”. “We have a robust system in place to ensure that teachers are upholding the standards of the BTec qualification and we strongly encourage anyone with concerns about malpractice to contact us immediately. All BTecs have included a strong element of external assessment since September 2012.” The spokeswoman added that the company supported the government proposals to improve accountability in schools.

I hope for the sake of the teaching profession that these schools are in fact isolated cases of this kind of behaviour, and this is not happening in all parts of the country, otherwise this could serious damage the reputation of our profession further than it already has by the unions constantly going on strike and achieving nothing. To all those who do want to go into teaching, these behaviours are not representative of every teacher, instead (hopefully) this is a huge minority and these will be stamped out. What I would like to see is these schools made an example of by them being shut down or taken over, which may seem odd considering my last article about a potential lack of school places but I would rather see children in schools that are professional than schools that are only designed for cheating their way up the league tables.

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