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Updated: York head hits out at Government over fall in top GCSE English grades
YORK head teachers and principals have hit out at exam boards and the Government, blaming a change in marking boundaries for an unexpected drop in many pupils’ GCSE English results.
Brian Crosby, the head at Manor CE School, one of York’s two academies, said the Government’s decision to make marking English exam papers tougher had taken its toll on this year’s results, with many schools down by as much as ten per cent on last year.
He described the situation as “devastating”, and said: “The results in English have taken a massive drop on last year. At Manor about 20 pupils out of 154 should have got English, but don’t now have it. What seems to have happened is that the Government has changed the grade boundaries halfway through the year.
“This means that pupils who were put in for early entry in the autumn – something which costs schools more and the Government discourages – were marked on the same targets as last year, but the majority of pupils who sat the exams in the summer faced tougher standards in English.
“Schools were not told about this – there was no warning and no one knows what’s going on.”
Across the city Fulford School was the best-performing state school in the city, with 74 per cent of pupils getting five A*-C including English and maths. But head teacher Steve Smith echoed Mr Crosby’s comments.
He said: “What appears to have happened is that, halfway through the year, it was decided that too many students were going to get a C grade in English and the grade boundaries of the exam were pushed up very substantially.
“Standards in schools have not changed one iota. It is the grading that has changed. Students who were working at a C level throughout the year, who were told on their assessments that they were in line for a C, have found out that this is worth a D. This means they may not get their places at college and sixth form.
“It is morally wrong to manipulate exam grades in this way – it is playing with young people’s futures. Failure to gain a C or above in English blocks access to post-16 study and many career paths.
“It could also demoralise those students who are at the highest risk of dropping out of education.
“All school and college leaders fully recognise that we need a reasoned, thoughtful debate about the purpose, rigour and long-term future of exams at 16, leading to a properly planned and implemented set of reforms with a workable timescale. This tinkering every year, in the middle of the exam season, has got to stop.”
Dr Alison Birkinshaw, principal of York College , said: “I am very concerned to hear of the issues regarding the English GCSE results, and share Steve Smith’s views regarding the way the marks have been put together.
“We will certainly bear this in mind when working with students as they progress to York College and we will make sure that no student is put at a disadvantage because of the changes that have taken place.”
Meanwhile Millthorpe School head teacher Trevor Burton said he was challenging its English language results.
The news came as thousands of pupils across York, North and East Yorkshire received their GCSE results yesterday against a backdrop of shifting standards nationally and a fall in the proportion of students awarded an A*-C grade for the first time since the exams were introduced 24 years ago.
This year’s national results show 69.4 per cent of entries earned grades A*-C, compared with 69.8 per cent last year. The Government’s new target for schools is that 40 per cent of pupils are expected to get five A* to C grade GCSEs – up from 35 per cent last year. The changes have been put in place to stop grade inflation and ensure pupils have a thorough grasp of spelling and grammar.
Nick Seaton, the chairman of York-based parent group the Campaign for Real Education, said changing the grade boundaries would be better in the long run. He said: “There’s no doubt that for employers and the general public to have confidence in the system it did need toughening up and in the long term it will be better for everyone because people can have more faith in the results.”