Thoughts from the Headteacher’s office

Responding to sudden changes in Government Policy

I absolutely understand the concerns of parents and share your frustrations with the way that government changes have impacted on how we operate at Woodcote.

 For the third time in the last two years, we have had to alter our plans for GCSEs because of a sudden announcement from the government. We know how important these exams are to you and we are frustrated we cannot focus all our energies on raising results.

 Without any notice and with immediate effect, the government has put pressure on schools not to enter students early for GCSEs – after we had already planned entries for the year. Early entry can serve many good purposes, including vital ‘live’ preparation for later exams.

 It seems that barely a term goes by without another sudden change to GCSE examinations. Worst of all, these changes are often made in the middle of students’ courses of study, making it impossible to plan properly or to focus on learning rather than constant administrative change. They changed grade boundaries between exam sittings; they dropped the vital skills of speaking and listening from English mid-course; and now this latest announcement.

 These changes are often timed to coincide with party conferences or similar events, leading us to fear that students and schools are just collateral damage in party political squabbles.

 Head teachers are ambitious for every child in their school. We are the first to admit that our education must constantly improve. We have achieved much – our school is unrecognisable compared to 10 years ago – but we have far to go. We see no reason, other than the date of the next election, why change needs to be rushed without consultation or planning. Ultimately it is students who suffer.

 Until September 2012 schools were judged against the percentage of students meeting expected progress from KS2 to KS3

 Expected progress is as follows:

KS2 Level Expected progress at GCSE
3 D
4 C
5 B
6 A

 During the Summer of 2012 it was announced that from September 2012 schools would also be judged on the percentage of students  making more than expected progress.

 More than expected progress is as follows:

KS2 Level Expected progress at GCSE
3 C
4 B
5 A
6 A*

 All schools are now being held to account against these new more exacting standards  

We along with many schools responded by setting students more challenging targets which reflect more than expected progress. 

For the Mathematics GCSE we were intending to let all Year 11 students sit the exam in November and again in June if they did not make their four levels progress.

 The Secretary of State’s announcement in early October that schools would be severely penalised if they entered students for examinations before they were ready to achieve their maximum possible grade has necessitated many schools to make very rapid changes to the November exam schedule.

 As soon as the announcement was made we consulted widely with other schools and made the following decision.

 We decided to set a mock exam for all  Year 11 students to test their readiness to be entered in either November  or June. From this we made 3 lists of students:

1)       Students who could demonstrate  that they were ready to sit the exam in November and would make more than expected progress, they will sit the November exam.

2)       Students who fell just short of their more than expected progress grade but would, with support & additional time be expected to reach the required standard in June, they will sit the June exam.

3)       Students who for social or other reasons might find it difficult to make the required improvements by June and for whom it was judged that their highest chance of making the best progress was to be entered in November.

The Mathematics department has responded extremely well to this unexpected government announcement by setting and marking the mock exam extremely quickly and genuinely grouping the students by their best chances of making the progress they need to make.

 We are aware of some parents who would be happy for their child to make expected progress.  However, we cannot support such wishes as it is expected that we have the highest aspirations for all of our students. Banking a C grade, or even a B grade in some cases is not really good enough and more especially in a core subject like Mathematics.  Failure to achieve the best possible outcome in Mathematics can limit one’s ability to progress in other subjects both in school and in fields of employment.

Given the nature and timing of the government announcement, we believe that we have genuinely worked extremely hard to ensure that all of our students make maximum progress in Mathematics and all other subjects, by the end of Year 11.  We will continue to support all our students to achieve this aim.

 We want to explain to you our position on these government reforms: we believe they are disrupting your children’s education and undermining their hard work. We wanted to let you know that we will continue to help students navigate the system as best we can:  and we want to encourage you to contact politicians and let them know how the changes are affecting you and your family. Ministers are distant from the front line and the realities of teaching. They cannot see the confusion and chaos being created; nor do they have any respect for the views of the profession. They may listen to you.