State schools have national minimums in exams to achieve if they are to escape Ofsted’s wrath. In secondary schools, the national target was 35 per cent A* to C grades at GCSE in 2011 and it is set higher for 2012.
Because the ability of children entering can differ hugely from one school to another and this is not exactly under a school’s control, another way of assessing the school’s success is the per centage of children who progress through the national standards at the expected rate between key stages again decided by national exams.
This data is key to the judgements made on a school by Ofsted which in turn can determine the fate of a board of governors, the senior management and the status of the school itself.
Driving schools rigorously by use of this hard data, is considered to be the right way to improve school performance – the children are getting better results and their life chances are being improved. Of course it is a major function of schools to ensure children have competent literacy and numeracy skills. The problem is there are so many buts...
These sweeping judgements are made on the back of a belief that exam results are somehow infallible – yet we know they are not. Perhaps they are the best we have – though I’m not sure.
There is some recognition that they may not tell all the picture in the introduction of the concept last year of the English Baccalaureate, which laid down what 5 subjects should make up the 5 A*-C in an attempt to impose some balance of core academic subjects.
We know that teaching for the exam can damage children’s education and that last minute drilling can boost results.
How many children would get the same result six months later – an indication of the real embedded value of the work?
So we make judgements on schools based on some pretty shaky premises.
Even if we could be sure of what exams tell us, is it really the most important aspect of a
What about the fact that only just over 30 per cent of people bothered to vote in the elections last week? That seems pretty shocking. It is hard data that can be assessed and monitored.
Do schools have a responsibility towards this and how significant is it? Is instilling the importance of understanding politics and then voting, just as important as instilling disciplined practice of maths problems?
As economic recession and insecurity sweeps Europe, extremist parties flourish. The challenge of this must march hand in hand with the challenge of improving exam results or the future for all of us will look bleak indeed.
* Sarah Evans, Principal King Edward VI High School for Girls