An End To The Perverse 5 GCSE’s Target

david laws

David Laws yesterday announced a little publicised but crucially important change to the way we’re measuring school performance. For many years our secondary schools have been judged by the proportion of pupils that achieve 5 GCSE’s at grade C or better, including English and Maths.

Although this was a well-intentioned target, it’s had a perverse effect. To boost their ranking under pressure schools have focussed on pupils that are on the D/C borderline at the detriment of both higher achievers and lower achievers at the school.  If a child is tracking towards an E grade (or worse), forget about them.

Hidden beneath last week’s headlines of our school leavers being the least literate and numerate in the developed world is the shocking fact that 20% of our children are leaving school without 5 grade D GCSE’s, let alone grade C. The fact we are completely failing to provide even the most basic education to one fifth of our children is what Centre Forum call ‘The Tail’. I’m not an education expert so was staggered when I discovered we are destroying the prospects of so many children in this country – and that this issue is not at the very top of education priorities for all political parties. Paul Marshall’s book on the topic should be required reading for all Liberal Democrats.

In future there will be 4 key measures which all schools must publish:

  1. Pupils’ progress across 8 subjects. So a parent will see whether pupils at a school typically achieve 1 grade more than expected, or 1 grade less
  2. The average grade a pupil achieves in these subjects. This will show, for example, that pupils in a particular school average a high B grade or a low D grade in their GCSEs
  3. The percentage of pupils achieving a C grade in English and maths
  4. The proportion of pupils gaining the EBacc, which will continue in its current form

These new targets will hopefully bring an end to underachievers being ignored in our schools. After all, a child moving from a grade E to a grade D in English and Maths could have as bigger impact on their life chances as another child moving from a D to a C.

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