Kent head on the problems facing non-selective schools in a test focused education system

Thanks to Phil Karnavas, head of the Canterbury Academy, for sharing this article about measuring results in a non-selective school.

phil karnavasIt is that time of year again. We hope all students have got their fair reward for their hard work during Key Stage 4.

English education seems to value that which it can measure and what it appears to be measuring, through traditional end of course examinations, is an increasingly narrow academic curriculum. Thus, under this model, it must follow that students whose abilities are academic and/or who are good at examinations will do better than students whose abilities lay in other areas and/or who are not good at examinations.

In Kent’s fully selective academic system it must also inevitably follow that schools that pick students precisely because their abilities are academic will do better than schools that do, and can, not. Thus, some students will be judged to do well because of the system whilst many others have to do well in spite of it.

Does this mean that the students, and the schools, that do better under this model are to be valued more highly, and judged to be more worthy, than those that do not ? Does it mean that those students who do not do well academically in terms of 5, or 8, GCSE grades A*-C, and their schools, are to be cast into the darkness ?

 One hopes we are more enlightened.

There are many inherent dangers of this system. One is comparing schools and forming a misjudgement that one is necessarily better than another. Another is that non-selectives feel the need to become watered down grammar schools and offer an educational  experience which is inappropriate for a significant proportion of their students.

This generation of students is the most tested in history and they are also the most messed about. They have experienced examination syllabus change – in some cases mid way through a course, the removal of qualifications that count, the reduction in the value of qualifications that count, the restriction on combinations of qualifications that count, the ending of coursework and a series of pass mark increases in subjects that count.  To raise standards more students must ‘fail’. It is more difficult to get a grade A*-C and this year, nationally speaking, the percentage attaining these ‘good’ GCSE grades has gone down dramatically. In Kent this will disproportionately hit the non-selective schools.

This year’s change is Progress 8, which few people will understand, and which was introduced after many students had started their GCSE courses in Year 9. At The Canterbury High School it meant that approximately a quarter of the year did not do 8 qualifying subjects upon which this measure is based. Next year’s change will be the replacement of grades by numbers in maths and English and then, the year after that, in other subjects. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that all of the present, and the future, accountability measures favour grammar schools and disadvantage non selectives.

 This must make it hard for parents to follow and who may well, understandably, be uncertain as to what any of it now means. This uncertainty will be compounded by the various ways that school leaders may manipulate, or present, their statistics.

Being as straightforward as possible, then, we can say that The Canterbury High School did better this year than last. We know our maths and English GC SE ‘good’ grades have gone up. We know our specialisms in Sport and Performing Arts were very successful. We also know there are some areas to work on. We know that the percentage of students attaining 5A*-C, including maths & English, has gone up. It will not be less than 45/46%. We would have liked it to be higher. We believe that our Progress 8 score has gone up from what it would have been last year and is now fractionally positive. If we are right then this is remarkable given nearly 25% of the year group will not be measured on 8 qualifying subjects. We know this year group had their exams disrupted by the bomb scare.

At The Canterbury High School some students have done extremely well, some have done well, some will get what they expected and some will be disappointed.  However, as far as we are concerned, none have failed and the ‘door of life chances’ has not been slammed irreversibly shut in anyone’s face.  Different students have different skills, abilities, aptitudes and interests and just as there are different types of success there are  different ways to achieve it.


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