Archive for September, 2012

Gove must not be allowed to have it both ways.

September 14, 2012

This is my letter to my MP about the English GCSE fiasco, the underlying issue being that Gove is trying to progress two mutually impossible policies.

To: Linda Riordan, MP, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London.

Dear Ms Riordan,

The Labour party must demand and lead much more informed debate about  GCSE exams as Michael Gove appears unwilling to do this. There is a gross unfairness to children and families in this year’s English GCSE results, that will become a festering sore unless it is dealt with quickly and effectively. Failure to get the grade C they have worked hard for will adversely affect the lives of some young people for years to come, possibly for their whole lives. Re-grading of papers through independent assessment of the students’ June exam papers, not just through a statistical exercise looking at the results for the whole year, must happen.

Relevant points of the unfairness as quoted by the TES are (

– An Association of School and College Leaders survey has found that 143 secondaries say lower than expected grades will push them below the government’s GCSE floor target, leaving them facing possible closure.

– The proportion of candidates achieving a C on the same unit, set by the AQA board, moved from 26.7 per cent last June, to 37 per cent in January, to 10.2 per cent this June, prompting concerns that results are not fair to pupils.

– If Ofqual has found that overall results for 2012 were correct but January’s were too generous, logic says the June grades must have been too harsh.

Glenys Stacey of Ofqual has already stated that the January cohort students were ‘lucky’ and so presumably accepts that there has been disparity of grading over the year.

The absolute unfairness of Michael  Gove’s policies is that he is demanding that schools across the country achieve a raised floor target of A*to C grades including English, with the threat of closure and being turned into an academy if they fail to do this. It is absolutely right that schools should strive for their pupils to achieve what other schools with similar cohorts have shown is possible. GCSE is defined as a criterion-referenced exam where a C grade depends on how well pupils answer the questions, not a norm-referenced exam where only a set percentage of the candidates sitting the exam during a year are allowed to gain a grade C or above. However the conversations between Ofqual and exam boards, and statements from Michael Gove about “grade inflation” clearly show that GCSE English has become a norm-referenced exam in all but name, where the percentage of pupils gaining grade C or above will not be allowed to rise to any extent, REGARDLESS OF THE EFFORT OF SCHOOLS, TEACHERS AND PUPILS.

MATHEMATICALLY, and hence undeniably, the only way that schools now below the raised floor target can get more of their pupils to reach English grade C GCSE, is by schools already above this raised floor target getting FEWER of their pupils to reach grade C.  Michael Gove’s policy of raising floor targets to drive raised achievement as measured by GCSE results, if it is to succeed, demands that successful schools do worse.  If better schools don’t do worse there is no chance of the weaker performing schools escaping the sanctions he is imposing, no matter what effort the schools, teachers and pupils commit to trying. This makes it a grossly unfair and perverse policy. It would be more honest just to demand that all schools below his raised floor target are forced to become academies, instead of trying to make this appear the school’s fault by setting them an impossible task when looked at nationally. But even if he did just force change to academy status, raised achievement nationally as judged by A*to C GCSE grades and hence success of his policy cannot happen unless GCSE is properly made criterion-referenced and increase of pupils getting grade C and above is not only accepted but demanded.

I am not arguing here whether the policy of schools moving into Academy chain control rather than LA control to drive raised achievement is bad or good – that is a separate issue that needs to be debated separately. The issue is that Gove is at the very least being disingenuous in presenting the policy to force change to academy status as being one of raising GCSE pass rates rather than it being a straightforward policy of change of control of schools. I even wonder whether there is some way that his presentation of his policies can be legally challenged. The impossibility of the schools turned into academies nationally showing raised standards by increasing GCSE English grade C and above pass rates unless better schools do worse, because the exam is now norm-referenced in all but name, means that his policy cannot possibly be successful through the effort of the schools affected. It can only be successful if it perversely makes better schools do worse.

It must surely be possible to challenge the making of laws or regulations that individuals and organisations cannot themselves achieve unless others fail to achieve them.

The question to ask of Gove is which policy will he abandon:

– his policy of academy conversion to drive a national increase of the GCSE grades that pupils achieve,

– or his refusal to allow the overall percentage of pupils in the country gaining GCSE grade C or above to increase?

Mathematically if this second policy succeeds the first policy must fail. And vice-versa.

Please let me know what steps you will take to get this issue debated in the House.

Yours sincerely

Roger Broadie