Tag Archives: Brian Lightman

Overall GCSE Grades risen, butt ay drop inn Inglish

It’s another results day! This time for those hundreds of thousands of pupils who have battled through the wonderful world of GCSEs.

As you can tell from the title, there has been quite a significant drop in the English GCSE results, however the overall number of those achieving the A*-C grades have risen on average across all subjects. So it looks like on average we’re improving, but become seemingly less literate. Slightly worrying …

Exam officials revealed that 68.8% of entries scored A*-C, up 0.7 percentage points on last summer. However, The proportion of pupils getting the top A* grade across all subjects fell slightly to 6.7%, down from 6.8% last year.

There were significant differences between the A* to C grade results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – where increasingly dissimilar versions of GCSE are being taught. Results rose in each of the three education systems.

There have been warnings of “volatility” in results following an overhaul of the exam system. Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, reported “increased volatility” in the results being received by schools. A “significant minority” had not received their predicted results, he said, with schools with many disadvantaged students having been “hit the hardest”. “The volume of change has made year on year comparisons in GCSE results increasingly meaningless. It is almost apples and oranges,” said Mr Lightman.

Andrew Hall, head of the AQA exam board, said the most significant impact on this year’s results has been the big fall in younger pupils taking exams a year early. Changes in the league tables discouraged schools from such multiple entries. I am still not convinced this isn’t holding back those children who are capable of getting high quality grades a year earlier. I don’t agree with schools using this system to as a pass to get more than one attempt at these GCSEs, but if they are capable of getting an A* or an A a year early, then let them.

It is important also to remember that across the three nations of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, whilst all have the same name of GCSEs, they are in fact different courses because the reforms such as the switch to linear, non-modular courses and less coursework, have applied only to England.

The results in English seem to have been most affected, with the number of A*-C grades down 1.9 percentage points to 61.7%. This was also influenced by the removal of the “speaking and listening” element of the subject.

The CBI’s deputy director general, Katja Hall, said exam reforms have helped to increase “rigour”. But from an employer’s perspective, she said more was needed to ensure a GCSE grade was an accurate measure of “skills they can bring to the workplace”. The removal of speaking and listening from the English GCSE was “particularly concerning”, said Ms Hall. She also warned that “we cannot continue to turn a blind eye” to the question of whether there should be such an exam for 16 year olds.

There is still a significant gender gap in this year’s results, with 73.1% of girls’ exam entries achieving A* to C compared with 64.3% for boys.

Exam officials also highlighted a fall in the numbers of entries for biology, chemistry and physics, the first such decline for a decade.

Another factor that can be considered an influence has been the ability of some schools, notably free schools and academies, to hire unqualified teachers, which is something highlighted by Tristram Hunt. “It is now the case that some of the pupils who have received their grades today may have higher qualifications than the teachers who will be teaching them at the start of the next school term,” claimed Mr Hunt.

Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, warned of “shocks in store” for some schools, depending on “how much they relied on gaming the old system”.

“All of this piecemeal change to GCSE means that is incredibly difficult for schools to forecast what grades students might expect to achieve, or indeed to compare the school’s results with previous years,” said head teachers’ leader Brian Lightman. Young people are not statistics. They are individuals whose life chances depend on these results. They have worked extremely hard for these exams and been conscientiously supported by their teachers. I hope that their results do them justice.”

Chris Keates, leader of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said this year’s GCSE exam entrants had to “cope with a raft of rushed through and ill-conceived changes to the qualifications system and so today’s results are especially commendable”.

The National Union of Teachers’ leader Christine Blower said that the headline figures “mask underlying issues which will only become clear over time”. “We must ensure that changes being made to our qualifications system do not unfairly disadvantage specific groups of students, including those with special educational needs or those from backgrounds of economic disadvantage.”

As always, if you either have students receiving their results or are in fact a student receiving your results, I hope you all got the results you were striving for and will continue on to achieve your potential in whatever route you go down.

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Fairer funding by pumping money

Historically, areas have been poorly funded have been at a disadvantage when it comes to our education.

Schools Minister David Laws has announced that almost £400m more money has been pumped into poorly funded areas in an attempt to make funding fairer. This seems like good news, but headteachers have warned that increasing costs mean that many areas are unlikely to be any better off.

Laws insisted that no other local council’s per-pupil funding will be reduced from its current level. He said: “This £390m increase – £40m more than was announced in March – is the biggest step toward fairer schools funding in a decade, and will go a long way to removing the historical unfairness of the funding system. Crucially, we have ensured no local authority will see a reduction in its budget, while 69 local authorities will get a cash boost. This increase in funding will make a real difference on the ground in the least fairly funded local areas, without creating instability, uncertainty or cuts in any areas.”

Ministers had announced proposals earlier this year to tackle England’s “unfair and complicated” system for allocating school funding, claiming they would set minimum funding levels and hand an extra £350m to schools in the least fairly funded areas.

As an example, Laws said that Cambridgeshire, which was the lowest funded area in 2014/15, will now get an extra £311 per pupil, whilst Northumberland will get an extra £307 and Croydon £278 more for each student.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), welcomed the extra cash saying the increase in basic funding is a “useful step” towards a national fair funding formula. But he added: “This good news is completely overshadowed by the reality that all schools and colleges are facing huge holes in their budgets caused by pension contribution rises and other increasing costs. This real terms reduction in funding will lead to larger class sizes and fewer course options as schools are no longer afford to run subjects that do not recruit well. We want to see the increase in pension contributions fully funded so that children’s education is not compromised. The new minimum-per-pupil level only means that those schools will be hit less hard than other schools that have historically been better funded. At best, schools in low funded areas will be no worse off and schools in better funded areas will see a real term decrease in their budget.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “This focused funding, first proposed in March, is welcome and necessary. It is good to see that the 60 local areas deemed the least fairly funded will benefit. There is growing evidence from Ofsted, the Sutton Trust and others about the effect of clusters of deprivation and these are not always where you might expect.”

He added: “However, this extra money must be seen in the context of on-going austerity for both schools and local authorities in real terms. This is at a time when pupil numbers are rising, there are questions about a sufficient supply of teachers and local authority support is being cut. Given these challenges this funding may not be enough for children in those areas, let alone the rest of the country.”

The other question that comes into my mind is ‘Where is this money coming from?’ What are the government using to fund this injection into these authorities? How are the government gonna make this money back? All these questions are clouding this seemingly great news. Of course the government has reserves that it might have used, but would they really want to do that? I doubt it. I sense that someone somewhere is going to announce some kind of tax added on to our already high costs of living in order to fund this.

More top graduates training as teachers?

The proportion of trainee teachers with top degrees rose to an unprecedented level in 2011-12, according to the latest official figures.

Two-thirds of postgraduate trainees in 2011-12 had a first or a 2:1, data from the Department for Education suggests. This was a rise of three percentage points on 2010-11.

Teaching unions welcomed the figures but said the overall picture on teacher recruitment was patchy, with evidence of shortages in some areas.

However Charlie Taylor, chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, said the figures were extremely good news. “Children deserve excellent teachers and today’s statistics show the profession is attracting more of the country’s top-tier graduates,” said Mr Taylor.

Some 12% of postgraduate trainees, more than 3,000, had a first class degree, up two percentage points on the year before. And the proportion of those with a 2:1 was 55% or almost 15,000 – up one percentage point.

There was a two percentage point fall in the proportion of those with a 2:2 – to 27.4% or 7,450 trainees – and a very slight drop in those with third class degrees, the government says.

Overall, 32,900 trainee teachers completed their courses in 2011-12. Of these 27,144 were postgraduates.

The figures also showed a rise in the number of newly qualified teachers getting jobs within six months of qualifying.

Of those whose employment status was known, some 91% had secured a job by January 2012 – a rise of at least 5% on 2010-11. “Schools recognise this increase in quality and more trainee teachers are finding jobs quickly,” said Mr Taylor.

The figures combine data on the numbers of teachers trained by universities, from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, as well as figures for non-university trainees collected directly from training providers by the National College for Training and Leadership. These figures pre-date the government’s School Direct programme which began the following year. School Direct is designed to boost the numbers of teachers trained directly by schools with support from universities.

Some experts have raised concerns that the picture from more recent years may be of emerging shortages of teachers in some areas.

Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College leaders described the increases in the number of trainees with good degrees as “very good news”. “However, there are still issues with certain subjects and in certain areas of the country. Many schools report that they are struggling to recruit high quality teachers in core subjects, especially maths, English and science. With the recent changes to initial teacher training, the big picture about where the gaps are has been lost. It must be a priority for the government to reinstate a national strategy for ensuring that there are sufficient numbers of high quality teaching graduates coming through in every subject.”

Chris Keates of the NASUWT teaching union said the increase in the proportion of trainee teachers with top degrees began “long before this government took office”. “Today’s figures simply confirm the continuation of this long-term trend and reflect continuing increases in the proportion of 2:1 and first degrees awarded by higher education institutions.”

Ms Keates added preliminary figures for the following year suggested a fall in the number of applicants for teacher training places of “almost 15%” in 2012. “Concerns expressed by teachers, school leaders and training providers that the teacher training system is heading towards crisis continue to be ignored by ministers. The adverse implications of the DfE’s policies on pay, conditions and professional status are undermining the attractiveness of teaching and placing the sufficient supply of high quality graduate teachers at serious risk.”

Headteachers critical of new rules on exam entries

New rules to prevent schools from “gaming” the exam system to improve their league table ranking will force secondary schools across England to quickly redraw plans for their pupils’ GCSE entries, according to headteachers.

Citing concern at the rising number of pupils taking the same exam papers a year or more earlier than normal – which Michael Gove branded as cheating by schools – the Department for Education has announced that pupils resitting the same GCSE paper will only have the grade of their first attempt counted in calculating school league tables.
Secondary schools across England will have to hurriedly alter their plans for GCSE entries after the abrupt change in policy was outlined by Gove in an interview with the Sunday Times.

Gove said: “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 the school itself can look better, and that is, in a word, cheating.”

The education department said in its announcement: “The change will mean schools will only enter students for an exam when they are confident the student has the best opportunity to succeed.”

For schools preparing to enter pupils in GCSE exams in November, Gove’s announcement may mean an about-turn that will see many schools withdraw pupils who have not previously taken GCSEs, and re-enter them again for summer exams when they may be better prepared.

The change will not apply to pupils who have previously completed GCSE exams, whose best grades will continue to count towards a school’s pass rate.

According to the DfE, only the first GCSE grade awarded would count towards league table rankings for schools. But by entering pupils in different series of exams – such as those administered by different examination boards – the previous policy of a pupil’s best grade in the same subject would be used. In that scenario, a pupil sitting GCSE English could take papers with different boards such as AQA or OCR in a series, and have multiple attempts to gain a pass mark that counts in school league tables.

“They’re going to create a crazy cluster entry at the end of year 11 with different boards if they aren’t careful,” said one headteacher, who did not want to be named.

A DfE spokesman said the policy was aimed at stopping schools entering pupils a year or more early for GCSEs, in the hope of getting a pass mark.

Gove said on Sunday: “The evidence shows that candidates who enter early perform worse overall than those who do not, even after resits are taken into account. It seems likely that candidates are being entered before they are ready, and ‘banking’ a C grade.”

School leaders said there were legitimate reasons for entering pupils early, and that this could cause schools to hold back bright students whom they would otherwise have entered a year early. “Most schools that use early entry are acting in the best interests of students. Many use early entry and then move students on to higher level papers or higher level qualifications,” a school leader from Yorkshire said.

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the change would pile “pressure and stress” on to students. He said: “We have repeatedly warned about the damaging effects of piecemeal changes to the qualifications system. It is grossly unfair to make changes like this when courses are already under way. This is adding pressure and stress to students in the most important year of their education. Whatever the rights and wrongs of early entry, students, teachers, parents and employers just do not know where they are in the context of constant tinkering with examinations.”