This much I know about…my ambivalent response to Gove’s re-takes don’t count in schools’ accountability measures policy change

I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about my ambivalent response to Gove’s re-takes don’t count in schools’ accountability measures policy change.

My strapline for this blog is taken from Hamlet – There is nothing either good or bad/ But thinking makes it so. It’s Shakespeare’s glass half full/half empty line for his Elizabethan audience. I have always been able to control my thinking and see my way through any challenge. But this week has been different. This week, with Gove’s announcement about re-takes and accountability measures, I have dithered over what to do in response to this policy change like never before. I even tweeted this, which ain’t like me at all…

tweet

The York Press has two photographs of me depending upon whether it is covering a positive story or a negative one. Well, this week, I haven’t known whether to laugh or cry. Let’s be principled and begin with my smiley pic…

smile

What was good enough for our students last week is good enough for them this week. Throughout my career I’ve based my decision-making upon my core values. Don’t be a feather for each wind that blows. Professionally I live by Mike Hughes’ perceptive aphorism, The most effective leaders seem to have erected a sheet of polaroid across the school gate: all the confusing, paradoxical and frustrating initiatives hitting the school, as they pass through the polaroid, emerge as parallel lines, harmonious with our plans and processes. And right now, more than ever, we have to go back to our core values to ensure that the impact upon our students of inconstant DfE policy is mitigated.

What’s the best for our students? This is the only question that matters and the answer is, surely, to leave them entered for the examinations in November; they can gain confidence from having experienced the examination for real and many can build upon what they learn from the experience in order to perform much better next June. Their start in life will only be enhanced by gaining the best grade they possibly can. Accountability measures are irrelevant – show leadership and do the right thing.

Trouble is my serious face kept popping up this week, just when I thought I had decided to live by my core values…

grimace

I have never worked for a Secretary of State who seems to want to make life for Headteachers as difficult as possible. The policy change about retaking GCSEs is perfect politics. It leaves Headteachers in a lose-lose situation. If we withdraw students from examinations, in Gove’s eyes we are admitting it was gaming; if we leave them entered for English and mathematics GCSEs, and our headline accountability figures fall dramatically, it’s professional suicide. It also reduced the impact on schools of the industrial action – the strike was not at the forefront of my mind on Tuesday morning! BTW I had to smile at this quotation from Gove in the official DfE press release: I believe that this speaks more generally of a narrowed curriculum, focused not on sound subject teaching as a basis for successful progression, but on preparation to pass exams.

We could lose all we have worked for during the past six years. In that time our 5 A*-C GCSE grades with English and mathematics figure has risen by 16% to 75%. Our levels of progress for English and mathematics are 10% higher than the floor standards. Worst case scenario: we leave the entries; in January our headline figures drop by 20 points, OFSTED turn up in February and inspect us based upon our November 2013 data, ignoring last August’s successes. We Require Improvement or worse…

Unless you’ve led a school – and invested more than you would care to admit in leading it to be successful – I don’t think you can pass judgement upon a Headteacher’s decision about the November examination entries.

Consider your whole school community before deciding what to do about this November’s entries. If you make a decision which badly affects your RAISE data but is the right decision for your current Year 11, you ignore the potential impact of that RAISE data on your teachers’ morale and consequently all your other students’ educations, especially if you are awaiting inspection. The line between being principled and being naïve is a thin one.

There have been three changes to the English GCSE examination rules for this cohort of Year 11s, why not a fourth? (Up-date: The fourth change happened – see below – some time today, only 18 hours after I published this post.) I have deep concerns about the November series of examinations. The boards will surely raise the grade boundaries and supressed grades will badly affect our students.

This policy change could lead to an increase in forced academisation. If your student in-take has an FFT D estimate below the floor standards, you now have very little chance of supporting your Year 11 students to a level of official examination success above the floor standards. Sponsored Academy status is your prize…

The new policy has one huge loophole if multiple-entry gaming is what it is supposed to eliminate. At the moment you can still make double-entries for students next June and count the best grade. One of Gove’s best proposals was for a single national examination board. He lost his nerve pursuing that policy when threatened with European competition law. I imagine that banning double-entries would be a restraint of trade for AQA, OCR et al. (Up-date: at some point today [4 October 2013] the DfE changed the wording on the website. The original version read as follows: Where exams are taken at the same time, in the same series, the best results will continue to count. It now reads thus:

Where exams are scheduled for the same day, the best result will continue to count. Schools will need to think carefully about whether this is in the best interests of their pupils. The Department for Education will continue to collect data on entry patterns, and will share that data at a school level with Ofsted.

In cases where exams are scheduled for different days, even if they are in the same series, only the first entry will count in the tables.

So, for a school to benefit from double-entry, students will have to take two full examinations in the same subject on the same day; entering students for English Language i-GCSE and a traditional English Language GCSE  will not enhance a school’s accountability measures as they are scheduled for different days. Such a strategy, however, could benefit students.)

Support each other like never before. In York all secondaries have agreed to publish “final result” figures next August and in January 2015 when the DfE performance tables are released.

As Headteacher the buck stops with you. My boss when I was a Deputy identified the gulf between being a Deputy and a Head; he said to me that, as a Deputy, I could always go home and sleep at night because, ultimately, the buck didn’t stop with me. I know many Headteacher colleagues who end this week feeling more tired than usual.

What are we going to do about our November entries? You know what? We can’t quite decide…

imagesCAZ9VMFD

About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
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47 Responses to This much I know about…my ambivalent response to Gove’s re-takes don’t count in schools’ accountability measures policy change

  1. Richard Clift says:

    Not a head so not my call but your blog accurately sums up the debate in our school

  2. It is this time when my new role doesn’t seem brave. The gulf between DHT and HT is deep and wide and most daunting once you have stepped into the shoes. I don’t feel encouraged by the SoS but threatened by his words and actions…it is as if he wants to trip me up, cause students to fail and staff to become disenchanted by the profession. Leading staff when there is such a lack of clarity in national direction and standards seems….I was going to say impossible, but nothing is impossible. I want to say challenging, but that is an understatement. Michael Gove apparently knows nothing of leadership. Whilst his intentions may be good, in some cases sensible, his bull in a china shop execution is damaging our profession. I’m glad your colleagues across York are working in support of one another. I hope to forge similar relationships here so that I too can feel part of such a strong group. I hope you get to rest this weekend, John.

  3. behrfacts says:

    I feel a lot of sympathy for you and other Heads, John, and have blogged about MG’s decision as well. Hopefully we can all have some impact together, particularly if everyone in education engages with this. A role for HTRT?

  4. imisschalk says:

    Reblogged this on i miss chalk and commented:
    The real irony I feel is that it all seems so arbitrary and lacking justified strategy, exactly the kind of planning that schools are expected to demonstrate with every inspection.

  5. Lynsey says:

    When, in real life, does it matter if you do something again to improve? What message are we, as educators, sending to our students if we say ‘Sorry, only counts the first time’? What life message comes from that? It’s so sad that these decisions are simply made with little or no consultation, brought in mid exam series and the expectation is that the Head has to pass the info on to increasingly disillusioned Year 11s. I work in a school where we are all desperate to improve and do the best but I rather feel like whatever we do it’s never enough. Our Head has our full support and equally supports us to do well by our students but I don’t envy any Head this decision. No wonder fewer people are applying for Secondary Headships.

  6. imisschalk says:

    Meant to add comment not reblog apologies – just wanted to say that the real irony is that the implementation of these measures is so arbitrary and appears to lack any strategic justification, but strategic planning is exactly what schools are expected to produce come inspection time!

  7. Kevin Moody says:

    John as a fellow Head I share your concerns totally. The Sword of Damacles hangs over us and whatever we do we face problems. If though there was a critical mass of schools who decided to do the right thing for their students , then the reality would be that the league tables would be a mockery and any subsequent attempts by Ofsted to inspect schools would be farcical .

  8. Clerk to Governors says:

    Reblogged this on Clerk to Governors.

  9. Twiggs backbone says:

    The real irony is that Michael Gove is a fan of resits when it suits him?
    Our Secretary of State took his driving test 7 times in order to get the pass he needed!

  10. J Granger says:

    A school governor’s view. School leavers now expect second/third… chances from employers, having made mistakes which should have been avoided by proper consideration and concentration to the tasks set. Sadly, employers are paying for an employee’s attitude which is inappropriate in many areas of commerce. Trainee teachers themselves have been allowed to resit exams endless times, but with what impact on the quality of NQTs? It appears to me that head teachers have followed the best route for their school but not for their students and Gove is trying to correct this, a win for students and their future employers. I consider the exception in favor of multiple tests is the Year One phonics assessments which highlight pupil issues at the beginning of education and allow teachers to correct the issues, not the employers!

    • jactherat says:

      I spent most of my career in Oz where we do not indulge in the re-sit, re-sit and then re-sit some more game and found it astounding when I first arrived. Much of what Gove says about this culture I do agree with. BUT and it is a monstrous but, the issue here is about the constant changes without adequate lead-in time. I have recently stepped away from being Head of English in an academy and given this latest debacle with my subject, I am so glad I do not have to worry about it, making endless action plans and justifications to all and sundry about how we’re going to tackle the latest change. Kids like to know what they’re up against, teachers want to be able to tell them- to be fair, to give everyone the best change. But when the goal posts constantly change it is impossible to do the right thing. Accountability- how??

      Head teachers, HoDs, students and parents are beside themselves with fear and rage. Oh, yes, I’ve also got a child caught up in the midst of this too. This is no way to run such a vital part of society. I’ve been teaching for 30 years, and, like John, have never known such an interfering SoS, one so driven by his own ego that he sees not the damage he is doing. The only consolation at the moment in this horror-show is that history will damn him.

    • Kay says:

      Your intention is right and I agree with the concept of what you are saying. However you don’t take into account that these changes have been made with no warning. And the latest update to the update means that the announcement on Monday was inaccurate and misleading.

      That is simply unfair.

      Bring in these changes by all means – but bring them in for the next cohort. Do not shift the ground underneath us without warning.

      And finally, through removing speaking and listening, a system has been created this year whereby a Nov entry English GCSE consists of different weightings to the June entry. The same cohort are being assessed differently. This is wrong.

    • maryg222 says:

      I know many people who employ school and university leavers and have never heard this complaint. This sounds apocryphal rather than based on actual fact. It is also a fallacy that teachers are allowed to re-sit exams endless times, I would assume that you are referring to the basic skills maths and literacy tests which formerly people could attempt more than once. This has not been the case for the last two years. The recent intakes of NQTs have been the highest qualified in the history of teaching with the highest number of entrants now holding a First in their degree entering both Primary and Secondary education. A studied alongside a fellow PGCE student with a First in English from Oxford who had to take 3 tries to pass the Maths test in our PGCE year. Four years on she is now Literacy Co-ordinator and has had an Ofsted outstanding teacher rating. By your benchmark she would have failed the course.

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  12. Hi John,
    This is my letter to parents of Year 11. Did We get it right? I honestly don’t know.
    Phil

    http://www.cardinalallen.com/latest-news-m-gove.php

    • johntomsett says:

      It looks great. Thank you. Might I use some of it if I have to write the same letter? Thanks J > Date: Fri, 4 Oct 2013 19:23:09 +0000 > To: jtomsett@hotmail.com >

      • You’re welcome. I’m an expert pilferer from yourself 🙂

      • Geoff Wake says:

        Phil in your letter you write…..
        “We have decided to withdraw a majority of pupils from the modular November entry. This includes some children who have banked two A* grades already. For these children it means these grades will be lost. The majority will be entered at the appropriate tier in the June linear exam. A very small number of children will be entered in November.
        Again we are bitterly disappointed that this opportunity has been stolen from our children.”

        This raises a fundamental question of pupil and parental rights in relation to education. What would be your response if a parent cam to school and demanded that their child be entered in November? Whose education is it? The school’s or the pupil’s?
        Clearly Gove’s intervention causes an acute dilemma but it’s been a long time coming. For too long Head Teachers backed by their SMTs and Governors have been complicit in collaborating with successive Secretaries of State in allowing student exam grades become of more value to the school than the pupil. Is it really in the best interests of those pupils who you identify as having two A* grades to have to start again?

        Maybe this is a proverbial straw and camel’s back moment. Perhaps for once Head Teachers could flex their professional muscle and sort out what is best for pupils and retake control of our schools.

        Geoff

      • You are absolutely right. Firstly, in the case of my school, it is not the whole cohort that is affected. For those Maths students that you refer to we had already consulted with a range of parents on our probable actions prior to my letter to all. One such conversation indicated exactly your possibility. Although my letter does not indicate this explicitly I will uphold the request and enter any pupil who wishes to exercise the option.

        Every school will have a variety of positions on this. Maths results at my school have, thankfully, been outstanding for several years. English results not quite so. Students sitting the maths modular exam-remember this is the final time this is possible-have been haring through the syllabus (our most able being stretched) and a November entry puts pressure on in terms of time available to cover ground. Historical analysis (3 years) of our results shows that pupils achieving say A* in modules 1 and 2 (one sitting for each) do not always repeat this in the first sitting of the final paper. They may for example get a grade B. This is likely to bring their overall grade down to A. In previous years, the additional time and intervention in weak aspects (easy to see in maths eg algebra) means that this final modular paper could be retaken with a likely outcome of A or A* meaning the A* grade is achieved. Remember this November is the last time modular entry is possible.

        I have no problem at all with the “end game” being a terminal exam which counts. In fact analysis of results at individual exam board level shows that our pupils perform better on exams compared to other schools than they do on CA or say Speaking & Listening.

        Surely Gove should not change mid course though. It is wrong and I say that also on behalf of other schools who, for their own very good reasons, may have used the repeat and multi-entry system to bolster exam table position.

    • Ronald Stewart says:

      “We have decided to withdraw a majority of pupils from the modular November entry. This includes some children who have banked two A* grades already”

      I’m sorry, but what?!
      This is not in the best interest of the pupils involved.

      This utterly undermines the suggestion that schools are not gaming the league table system.

      Unfortunately, this new system encourages gaming in the other direction – instead of entering pupils for inappropriate exams, now you are withdrawing pupils inappropriately.

      • Ok Ronald I don’t know who you are or what you do. I understand why you might say that. Rather more nuanced than it is perhaps striking you. For one, this particular young chap is the son of my Assistant HT who happens to be in charge of Assessment. The whole matter is very complicated and I defy any HT to say it isn’t so.

  13. Arnie says:

    John
    I’ve read your blogs over recent months ( more please they are so thought provoking!) all I can say is I do wish more heads were like you were prepared to stand up and say what their thoughts are. I don’t necessarily always want to agree with them…I just want to know they’ll not always accept the party line…isn’t that we want for our children, an inquisitive challenging mind ? As parent I entrust my child to their school and head and I want to know they really do care….and I think you do.
    I wish my kids had a head like you!

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  15. Hi John,
    What you’ve said sums up exactly what we’ve been through this week. We have told students and parents we’re going ahead with Maths but not English (for pretty much the reasons you’ve outlined above). I’m still not certain it’s right, so we’re consulting parents next week. At least AQA have extended the deadlines for entries and changes of entry. Many Year 11 students are very upset as they are sitting on good Speaking & Listening marks. They are also confused from the multiple changes which have affected them.

  16. missdcox says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Can you clarify two things?

    Firstly, if Gove has said all students must get a ‘C’ or carrying on re sitting, what would the impact be of entering all C/D border lines? They’d either get their C , great, or have to resit anyway. How are these students that must get a ‘C’ reported? Is it just their first year 11 attempt that shows? If so, how will Gove et al know that all students are going on to get that C?

    Secondly, this may sound ignorant but what importance does the published A*-C hold?
    Imagine a school whose target is 80% a*-c. If it carried on with early and multiple entries it would get 90% but if it didn’t it would get 60%. Whilst Ofsted may arrive if they did the later surely they aren’t going to give a 4 if 90% of students got English and Maths AND this was well above the schools target? So what does it matter if you go on to do the best for the students?
    A school could play a big PR game with it in the local and national press so all current and potential students/parents are aware. On results day, you would tell the press what you really achieved for the students not the ‘published’ amount. This would make people aware that this school does the best for children AND does it very well.
    So what does the published % matter?

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  18. garywatson3 says:

    Following the recent changes we have decided to go with our original plans. Never have I felt so angry as a teacher over 25 years and 5 as a Headteacher. I shall continue to do what I believe is in the best interests of the children in my care regardless of the direction of the prevailing wind at the time. Headteachers across the country need to be bold and stand up for what they believe is right and proper. The difficulty is that boldness in certain circumstances amounts to professional suicide. Reform – yes…..Change…..yes…..Eliminate Gaming……yes……..BUT please can these decisions be thought through, well-timed and considered. The present piecemeal tinkering is simply not acceptable.

  19. pocottage says:

    John gets it spot on once again. The only thing I’d add is that although the buck does stop with head teachers, I got one have lost plenty of sleep over this, as has our Maths Curriculum leader and English Curriculum leader. The impacts of this policy revision run deep for everyone.

  20. Bob Sanders says:

    The point is that Gove wants there to be confusion and chaos so that he can say that the state system isn’t working. I leave you to work out what the solution will then be. More privatisation? Surely not!

  21. Being only a lowly classroom teacher, my opinion probably counts for nothing. But watching my colleagues struggle with these hard decisions has been a difficult thing to do.
    I’ve often thought that we don’t do our kids any favours by giving them chance after chance after chance to take exams and improve results. They don’t get those chances in the real world. It is a really shitty thing that the government has done, changing the rules halfway through the game. But it seems to me that everything in education these days is a case of knowing how to ‘play the game’. From ofsted inspections, internal lesson observations and all the rest.
    Of course we should be doing what is best for the kids. Do what will get them the best grades and set them up for life after school. The consequences of this means a whole headache of problems for the whole school community – triggering inspections and monitoring visits and tumbling down the league tables.
    Something is seriously wrong with the whole education system at the moment, and I wish I knew the magic answer to fix things.
    Thanks for the blog entry, one of the most balanced and thoughtful pieces on this subject at the moment.

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  23. Tom King says:

    Would it help for school league tables to be assessed against the UKSA code of practice? You may find the high level concerns and lack of engagement with users worth reflecting on: http://statisticsauthority.gov.uk/reports—correspondence/correspondence/letter-from-sir-andrew-dilnot-to-rt–hon–david-laws-mp.pdf

  24. Geoff Wake says:

    In reply to Phil above – and to make a more general point….
    You’re absolutely right Phil, Gove shouldn’t change the rules mid-stream. In fact my argument is that he shouldn’t be allowed to change the rules at all. The rules should be determined by the profession – with Head Teachers and teachers considering what ultimately is best for students, and when it comes down to it individual students. .
    I think you hint at the heart of the matter in your defence of the most able – that they have been stretched although they have been haring through the material. I’d have been unconvinced if you had said their experience had been enriched or even rich. What does a student like (let’s call him) David want out of school? Is it only high grades that matter? In Maths would it really matter if he got an A instead of an A*? What would have happened if he’d experienced a rich diet of mathematical activity that had included investigating, exploring, mathematical modelling, reasoning and proving …..? Actually if he was as able as his grades in modules to- date suggest I feel sure he would get an A* with the level of understanding such a rich diet would provide.
    Education has many more outcomes than grades. These give just one measure. Did you know that the UK comes right up there with countries like Japan in one of the TIMSS league tables? It’s how our students dislike Maths. There’s other research that shows how even the able in mathematics “would rather die” than continue studying it (http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/1634/ )
    ? We should be fighting for opportunities to excite students in their studies, to capture their imaginations, and get away from learning dull rules and procedures. In doing so we should free teachers from careers that are being reduced to technician level status. We should be fighting to give David and all students a better education than they are ever likely to get in the current system.
    I propose that Head Teachers together say “enough is enough” to Mr Gove and en masse exit from the systems of measurement and accountability that we find ourselves in – and passively accepting. Let’s return to real “core values” and educate our young people – let us have a meaningful debate about what that might mean if we accept that what is really broken in the education system is its governance.

    • Some excellent points Geoff. I feel very confident in talking about the experience of the “David’s” in maths in my school. I am a maths teacher myself and feel privileged to work alongside professionals who are not just getting children over the line but value the extension work given to enrich all abilities including the very very able (A* grades for Year 8 “David’s” with A level teaching for some in Years 9/10 & 11). I am less confident about English simply because we were “punished” by AQA last year and the grade boundaries shift. It has been hugely frustrating to see some schools make hay with Welsh Board courses and inflated Speaking & Listening & CA results whilst we have faithfully stuck to real teaching which turns out pupils who are highly valued by our Sixth Form partners. This is not true of all of course. Another factor in making this a “stick or twist” position for HT’s is the Gold Standard “3 levels” progress measure. I applaud schools who have stuck to their November entry but have they done so a) because this will give their pupils another chance? b) because they can use the Speaking & Listening scores and they are frightened that one terminal exam will deflate performance? Wherever they are they will have the 3 levels progress measure in RAISEonline to explain away.
      What an appalling indictment of our education system that we are limited by these artificial statistical measurements and the needs of each child are compromised. Watch Gove’s space for more malicious manoeuvring aimed at destroying good schools…….

      Phil

  25. bill says:

    I’m a head and my twin boys are in yr 11. I am extra distraught! Gaming? I think Mr Gove enjoys that. Completely wrong on every count.

  26. Michael Lee says:

    Changing the rules halfway through is madness. The summer results are already compromised. Those who entered year 10 students will benefit from the announcement, which is perverse since it is precisely what Michael Gove seeks to prevent. Students sitting English in November will be assessed on speaking and listening, those in the summer will not. It will be impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions from the final published results. I despair!
    Let us set up our own tables of published results which include the best results from whichever exam is taken. This could be coordinated nationally and published, with appropriate publicity, as the “real” results and an alternative to the flawed and unreliable DFE figures.
    While we are about it, lets get every school in the country to enter its year 10 students for English and Maths, rendering official results even more meaningless.
    By all means work towards phasing out multiple entries, although I am not entirely convinced that this is the right thing to do, but let’s do it in a logical and coordinated fashion.

  27. Rodger Caseby says:

    Thanks for this post. Notable that this is a dilemma for school leaders because we care. Staggering that we’re thrown into this now because of a desire to make announcements in party conference season which have to take effect before the 2015 election. Where are the children in that?

  28. I sent a letter to the Prime Minister today and copied to the Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Gove. I also sent to their PPS’s in the hope that someone might read it. Apologies for the length, but it sums up my rage and righteous indignation and I am happy to share it:

    Dear Mr Cameron

    As a principled Headteacher, who, like other school leaders, takes incredibly seriously the responsibility for the outcomes of the almost 1800 students in my care, I am compelled to share with you my reaction to the changes to early entry GCSE.

    The nature of the announcement, coming as it did through the Sunday papers last week, may not have been intended to be released in that way but as such was deplorable and unfortunately not the first time that Headteachers have found out major policy changes from the broadsheets in advance of any Department for Education statement. The suggestion that schools that use early entry are ‘gaming’ or cheating’ is taken very personally and reads as an appalling slur on the work of the dedicated school leaders, myself included, who have used early entry strategies; as is the description of us as ‘not having the best interests of our children at heart.’

    The timing of the DfE statement and its immediate effect has an enormous impact on all the work and organisation that has gone on, in good faith, to prepare students for this year’s November exams and the financial resources that have been allocated for this purpose. Year 11 students across the country who have been preparing for these exams may now find that their schools are forced to make decisions to withdraw them.

    The DfE statement refers to two documents to substantiate its decision. The first, ‘Early entry to GCSE Examinations’ was published by the DfE in 2011 and refers to the situation in 2010. These statistics from 2010 are historical and do not describe the current situation. The second document, ‘Schools’ use of early entry to GCSE examinations’, published by Ofsted in March 2013 has on its cover the following statement: ‘The Survey raises concerns about the overall impact of early entry on the achievement and progress of students who could attain the top grades at GCSE. However, it also finds that some schools have used early entry intelligently and effectively as part of their wider work to raise standards.’ Throughout the document this balance is maintained.

    It is my strongly held belief that my school, like very many others, has used early entry intelligently and effectively as a tool to raise standards. We are an inner city comprehensive, proud of our rich and diverse community, where 59 different languages are spoken, and the fact that we serve a very wide range of families. We used early entry strategies last year and 2013 saw us achieve the best 5 A*-C including Maths and English results the school has ever achieved. They were above the national average with students who, on average, did not enter the school as such. We did not withdraw students from Maths or English once they have achieved a ‘C’ grade. We found that having achieved a ‘C’ grade, students were motivated to improve their grades still further. Motivation was not limited to those who achieved a ‘C’ grade either, early entry motivated all the students we decided would benefit from this strategy. Detailed analysis of early entry results allowed for laser style interventions to ensure students were supported to reach the best possible grade they could; whatever that might be. Students who took GCSE exams early were afforded extremely valuable exam practice which they could build on for the summer exams. The strategy also allowed us to have an externally verified progress measure which was extremely useful in a time when there are significant grade boundary changes. Many students within the school, be they boys, students with EAL, have made greater than expected progress through early entry strategies. We have more students than ever before taking A Level Maths.

    The success of our early entry strategy was confirmed by our Ofsted judgement in May 2013. Our Ofsted report stated that ‘Data on student progress are regularly collected and analysed in increasing detail as part of the effort to close remaining gaps. Students entered early for GCSE examinations in mathematics make similar, and sometimes better, progress than their peers.’ I agree that any ‘manipulation or gaming’ which is not in the best interests of students should not occur and would fully support decisions reached by the DfE to bring an end to this. However, as any teacher will tell you, if you punish the whole class for what only some may be doing, then that is grossly unfair.

    Concerns, rightly held by the DfE, Ofsted, Headteachers and parents, about the progress students make and the outcomes for all students are already part of the floor targets, levels of progress, the RAISE document and the Inspection regime. The mechanisms are therefore currently in place and it does not require the sudden changes to early entry GCSE to quality assure the work of schools.

    However, these sudden and immediate changes mean that many schools which have used this strategy as an externally verified progress measure and motivational tool to raise standards and had planned to continue to do so, do not feel that they are able to enter students into the November exams any longer, if these are the only results that will be used in the Performance Tables. I am in a position where I have to balance what I believe is best for my current Year 11s, against what is best for the reputation and future of Jack Hunt School as perceived through the Performance Tables and the Inspection regime.

    I have battled all week with this and continue to do so. We hear much of ‘conviction politics’ and I believe that people who attain high office in the government of this country feel deeply and strongly on matters and hold principles that they will adhere to, whatever the pressure. Much like leaders of any institution who have a moral purpose and are determined to do their best for those in their care.

    I come from a background where I was the first person in my family to go to University, because the circumstances of poverty of income rather than intellect required my parents and their siblings to leave school at 14 years of age and find work. I know the power of education to transform lives and have seen it in the schools I have worked in both in England and in Africa. The effective and intelligent use of early entry GCSE is a powerful tool to help raise attainment and therefore change the life chances of so many young people.

    As the parents of the students in my school put their trust in me to safeguard their children and do my very best by them; may I put my trust in you: that you will listen to and consider the numerous voices from individuals and organisations asking that this decision is overturned for this year’s students and that it is debated in full before a final conclusion is reached?

    Yours faithfully

    • johntomsett says:

      Thank you so much for this. Only this morning I was saying to my team that I felt like complaining to David Cameron because one of his underlings was undertaking his duties irresponsibly; you’ve beaten me to it…

      • jactherat says:

        No, you should write to Cameron too! It’s the weight of opinion that will count. One HT is easy to dismiss…as Gove frequently and vehemently does. Remember tipping points and critical mass. Clearly your original post generated a groundswell of genuine and deeply felt anger and resentment. I would urge all HTs and their governing boards to write to Cameron in a similar vein to Pamela. There is so much at stake here!!

      • Stuart Mason says:

        Hi John
        What would Joe Strummer have done? I feel very torn on the right thing to do for my Y11 students and for the staff and school overall. However, it seems to me to be ever more important that Heads stand up for our moral purpose and find some collective strength in our actions. I would be interested to know what decision you are taking. I feel I need to call it as time is ticking for the kids and staff who have put so much into preparation for November.

  29. Stuart Mason says:

    We’ve called it! We’re sticking to our plan…if it was the right strategy ten days ago then it is the right strategy now!

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  32. CT says:

    Reblogged this on Colin thinks ….. and commented:
    This from the front line…

  33. Pingback: Thought for the week « Three-Legged Cat

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