Commonsense really is not all that common

Once again the term ‘common-sense’ has been disproven. The recent change in the GCSE English grade boundaries mid-way through the academic year seems to have produced a winner and certainly several ‘losers’.

On 23rd August, students sadly found out that their grades had been relegated due to the decision to raise grade boundaries by exam boards. There are thousands of pupils who would have received a ‘C’ grade under the January grade boundaries however, in June they were awarded a ‘D’ grade under the new system. Despite admitting that students have been treated unfairly, Michael Gove (Education Minister) refused to readjust grade boundaries.

I thought it was ‘common’-sense not to change the rules during a course of a game and definitely not implement the rule changes without informing all participants. In the case of the English GCSE exams, the exam boards obviously did not apply the same rationale. The winners and losers are easily identifiable in a game. As a result of this fiasco, the ‘losers’ are the pupils who sat this exam in June, their English teachers and parents. It is widely accepted that education has a significant influence on life chances, and the boundary downgrade has unfortunately followed suit.  Thousands of pupils needed particular GCSE grades to go onto Further Education and later on when applying to university, usually a minimum grade ‘C’ is required.

To be accepted into a good university is highly competitive as it is. How many more knock backs in education can this generation take?  First the increase in tuition fees, then EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) was abolished and now this! Many pupils now have to re-sit their English exam before going on to Further Education. This now delays pupils by a year, although, on the 31st August, the exam regulator Ofqual offered those pupils who sat the exam in June an opportunity to re-sit in November.  Nevertheless, a re-sit five months later is of no use to students who need their results now.

English teachers and teachers in general put in a lot of effort to prepare their students for exams. The downgrade does not reflect such hard work.  Additionally, teachers formulate each pupil’s predicted grade and for a large percentage of pupils not to meet their target grade reflects badly on the teachers and the school.

Opposing arguments claim that predicted results are usually higher than that of the GCSE grades achieved. This may be the case but because of the downgrade the percentage difference between predicted and actual grade achieved is a lot higher.

With funding of schools indirectly linked to how well a school performs on the league table (parents tend to make a decision on which school their child will attend from the league table and funds now follow pupils through the pupil premium scheme) this blunder has a potential to affect school funding also. Parenting is a selfless, at times thank-less and expensive role.  Financially supporting a child in education is expensive and time-consuming. To unfairly assign parents with an extra year in this role should be addressed and compensated by the government.

The winner to me seems to be Michael Gove. He wanted school exams to be more rigorous and then the grade boundary catastrophe happens. Weeks later Gove conveniently announced that the GCSE will be replaced with the Ebacc (English Baccalaureate) in 2017 (this will be monitored and discussed in future posts).

There was certainly both a lack of transparency and communication between the examination bodies, schools and the government. Unlike the English government decision, the Welsh government decided to re-grade the disputed GCSE exam papers. Could this spark the beginning of Wales having their own examining body, thus devolving further powers away from Westminster?

What can we learn from this?

It is unknown why the English GCSE exams became harder in five months. Was this due to political influence? Did exam boards react out of fear of the Gove-levels? What we definitely know and what we can learn from this mess is that a student’s education and hard work should not be treated like this again. We are in need of efficient checks and balances on examining boards as Ofqual do not seem to be doing a great job.

4 Comments on “Commonsense really is not all that common”

  1. This is stress for the students go through this. I think this is an interesting point that you have brought up. It not only affects the students but also the teachers, parents etc. the authorities shouldn’t have sanctioned the change midway through the academic year. It was a blunder. Great post

  2. Great idea… let’s simply give all students a C-Grade GCSE automatically then we can up their life-chances?

    Why is it any worse to change the rules between Jan and July exams than it is between July and Jan exams?

    • Hey Tommy5d,

      In my opinion if you are going to change the grade boundaries between January and June then the examboards should notify all schools and the Department for Education in advance. At least this way students can prepare.

      We should not learn about the changes to the grade boundaries on results day.

      If you are planning to change the rules on a theory test it will affect those who would like to sit a theory test in the future, not those halfway through a theory test.

      Also, changing the rules in July seems fine to me as it will affect students starting their GCSEs in September. This therefore does not affect students who are close to finishing their GCSES.

  3. What do you make of pans to cut 1 in every 4 civil servants in the Department for Education by the Secretary of State and his Board?

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