ASCL launches commission of inquiry over GCSE results

16 October 2018

GCSE performance statistics were published today including data which showed the percentage of pupils achieving a Grade 5 ‘strong pass’ or above in English and maths. Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Today’s figures show us that 57% of pupils in state-funded schools did not achieve the government’s new measure of a ‘strong pass’ or above in GCSE English and maths. What they no longer show is the number of pupils who didn’t achieve at least the ‘standard pass’ of a Grade 4, but we know this is likely to be over one-third.

“As a society, we must surely question a system which sends out such a negative message to so many young people. While we understand that the government is making a distinction between Grade 5 as a measure of school performance and Grade 4 as the standard required for onward progression for students, we fear that this is an extremely confusing message for young people, their parents and employers.

“The result is that many young people will have felt deflated and uncertain after taking this summer’s exams despite having worked their hardest. Those who did not achieve a Grade 4 also face the grind of compulsory resits.

“What the public perhaps doesn’t realise is that it is predestined that about one third of young people will fail to achieve at least a Grade 4. This is because the percentage of pupils attaining each grade is more or less fixed by a system known as comparable outcomes, in which the distribution of grades is guided by what cohorts of similar ability achieved in previous years.

“This system has the virtue of ensuring that pupils don’t lose out from one year to the next by changes in exams, but it ensures we will always have a forgotten third. We have to do better for these young people. It cannot be right that we have a system which leaves so many students feeling crushed rather than proud. We have to find a way of better recognising their abilities.

“ASCL has launched a commission of inquiry which will initially focus on English, and which will look at how we might better reflect the achievements of all our young people.

“The commission is made up largely of practising English teachers and school and college leaders, and is chaired by educationist and writer Roy Blatchford. It has held an initial meeting and will submit a final report in 2019, which we will discuss with the Department for Education and with exams regulator Ofqual.”

Additional information: Further to this press release, while the main text of the cited Department for Education statistical release doesn’t contain figures for the number of pupils achieving Grade 4 in English and maths, the information is contained within national table 2a, which shows that 63.9% of pupils in state-funded schools achieved at least a Grade 4. This means that more than a third did not achieve Grade 4 or above in English and maths.