Monday, 10 January 2011

League Tables....

League tables are frequently a bone of contention between teachers, schools, parents etc... but the new league tables, due out this week (Wednesday, 12th January 2010 at 09.30), will cause far more disturbance than usual.

The new league tables will include the newly announced measure of students passing the English Baccalaureate (EB) subjects at a C grade or above in: English, Maths, Science, a language and either geography or history at GCSE.
Headteachers only knew that this criteria was being included recently. Students and schools who grades are included in these tables did not even know of the English Baccalaureate criteria when they chose their options or took their exams. It's a new measure and one that schools didn't know about until recently. In fact, Headteachers only knew that this criteria was being included in the league tables a few weeks ago. I was with one Headteacher who has transformed his school, the engagement of students in learning and their achievement. When he got the email - to say he was fed is understating the case.
Many schools, including one of the ones I was Headteacher of, did not make taking a Modern Foreign Language at GCSE compulsory. There are a whole host of students who are not remotely interested in learning a language and it was, for them just not relevant. Forcing them to take one encouraged some students to 'switch off', this creates it's own range of issues, including behaviour issues. As a result, many schools, hundreds of them I suspect, will drop in the league tables to be published today.
Speaking to a Headteacher of a school in an area of second and third generation unemployment with huge lack of community and family aspiration, he just threw his hands in the air at the thought of motivating a lot of his students to study French, German, Mandarin or Russian. Having said that, there are always students in every group, who against all expectations, get motivated by a subject and excel.
There are other anomalies..... Catholic schools expect their students to study Religious Education (RE) at exam level - for some bizarre reason, RE is not included with History and Geography. Talking to a Headteacher of a very very successful Catholic school last week, she was concerned that all her students did RE but then also did a modular Integrated Humanities (IH) course. This IH course does not count under the EB criteria. From being a very successful school, she fears she will plummet in the tables as RE is not recognised.
Schools with a very high proportion of students where English is the second language do well, but frequently for a large number of students (not all) the focus is improving English - they will also drop.
Schools are now considering how they respond to this. Many are quickly readjusting their course options and curriculum to comply with the new requirements Some are ignoring them as Heads believe the increased academic requirement is just not appropriate for the majority of their students.
The other new aspect is the raising of the bar where schools are deemed to be unsatisfactory or not. The bar raises from 30% to 35% of students achieving 5+ A*-C grades. Add this to the new EB criteria - this will be a further issue for some. At least there is some flexibility: where schools can demonstrate that standards are improving they should not be placed in this category.
This whole initiative raises many issues:
In a time where there is a national shortage of language teachers, where are schools suddenly going to find the teachers? Applicants who are any good will certainly be able to pick and choose and, to a certain extent, name their price. Successful schools will receive the majority of applications, struggling schools will find it hard to recruit.
Equally, some schools will have to find more specialist teachers for History and Geography. I have already heard of some staff undertaking additional training in these subjects.
What becomes of all the very good modular and vocational courses that students undertake - some will survive, many won't.
So...
Many would agree that the exam system needed review - many schools now start GCSE courses in Year 9, rather than the traditional Year 10, there are calls for GCSE's exams to be taken in Year 9 so starting even earlier - it is a bit of a mess.
In fairness, politically, if Secretary of State for Education Mr Gove is going to do this, he could only really make this dramatic move this year, so by the time of the next election, he can demonstrate an improvement against the new measure which will take two years to pass through the system.
It will certainly put more pressure on schools, staff and students. It will be interesting to see the figures when they are released and see the reactions to them.
To read the full BBC above story, click here

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