News & Events

It’s GCSE Results Day – and the new
numbers add up to change

Many London parents will have spent the early part of this morning trying to reassure their anxious teenagers as they prepared to open their GCSE results after a long summer of waiting.

The first hurdle for many parents was understanding what was actually written on the page, given the new GCSEs now use a numbered grading system!

What does a 4 mean? Is it a C … or is that a 5? What about at the top end? Does an 8 fully recognise the dedication and hard work of a talented student or should we be expecting a 9? 

We are told that one of the advantages of the move to numbers is that it gives us somewhere to go when year on year grade inflation sees the top grades become more commonplace. This is because as teachers hone their understanding of the specifications and how they are marked by attending feedback sessions with the exam boards and analysing examination reports and their students’ answers, it is only natural that they understand how better to achieve the top grades and prepare their candidates accordingly.  But it’s a hard message for this year’s most gifted students that by the time they are in the job market a possible new grade ‘10’ could have replaced the top grade they worked so hard for!

Many were in agreement that the GCSE curriculum was in great need of reform; the prevailing ‘resit culture’ and the disastrous experiment of controlled assessment (like coursework but inadequately monitored and therefore sometimes woefully implemented) are best forgotten. But, at least the former system attempted to introduce the types of skills students will need in the workplace of the future.

Just as curriculum reform was undergoing the first throes of implementation in 2016, The World Economic Forum predicted in its Future of Jobs report that by 2020 creativity will have jumped from 10th to 3rd most desirable skill that workers will need to cope with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The government’s new systems to measure a school’s performance at GCSE assesses grades in just 8 GCSE subjects (Progress 8) and the EBAcc (English Baccalaureate) excludes the crucial creative subjects like art, music and drama. This confirms just how out of kilter the government are with the skills our students – and the country – need for the future.

There is also concern that the new GCSEs offer inadequate preparation for what for many will be the next stage in their academic careers. The new exams are content-heavy – more ‘rigorous’ says the government, more Gradgrindian say I – and this fact-based approach means that if you can keep the information in your head until you put down your pen from the exam, you have a better chance of doing well. Until, of course, you start on your A level or university course, where you will be expected to study independently, demonstrate you can think for yourself and develop your own ideas … understandably, this is where some start to struggle.

We know that employers are already increasingly interested in the ability to research and to select information judiciously and apply it effectively; they assume everyone knows where to go to find information, it’s what they do with it next that counts. What a missed opportunity these GCSEs were to create and futureproof a world-class qualification which measures the skills students will actually need!

Worse still, the new specifications were hurriedly implemented, not allowing publishers sufficient time to write textbooks, making the job for even the most committed teachers very challenging indeed (bear in mind they were also trying to cope with wholesale reform at A level at the same time.)

At my school, Croydon High School, we spend a great deal of time going through each girl’s results with a fine toothcomb, analysing what each grade means for her in terms of next steps, deciding whether the outcome is a fair assessment of performance and using our in-depth understanding of each girl’s profile and aspirations to shape the advice we will give her on results day. We believe that a strong careers’ department plays a crucial role in helping girls develop perspective and understand the requirement of much more than simply getting good grades. Careers’ education starts in KS1 and from Year 9 we run careers’ masterclasses, conferences, networking breakfasts … and our fantastic parental and alumnae body help us deliver an extensive programme.

We also consider our curriculum very carefully to ensure it develops the skills girls will need in the future. For example, we are very excited to be introducing a new subject in Years 7,8 and 9 this September. Enterprise Technology marries the key learning components of a traditional computing course with skills we see as key for the future; problem solving, risk taking, independent learning, collaboration, leadership and entrepreneurship and opportunities to consolidate these skills are provided across the curriculum. Our girls go on to a huge variety of courses and placements and we know these skills will be key whatever sphere they end up in – they may even prove more important in the long run than the results they receive.

Whatever is written about the new GCSEs, we should not undermine the hard work and commitment of this year’s students, their teachers and, of course, their patient and supportive parents.  For those who achieved their goals, congratulations, and good luck for the next stage!  For those students who met with disappointment this morning, I would urge them and their parents to remember that perspective is everything and their future was not set in stone by what they found on the paper this morning. Now, more than ever, the ability to identify what you want, perfect the skills you need to achieve it and then find the dogged determination to make it happen will play a bigger part in defining your future than your results.

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