(Published in the Brentwood Gazette 03.09.14)
I had mixed emotions when reviewing the extensive Gazette coverage of exam results over the past couple of weeks. Delighted for those achieving what they needed to go on to the next stage in their lives but also angry that some had been handicapped by interventions based on politics not educational benefit.
Local heads were rightly outspoken about the change in English GCSE assessment which was imposed long after affected students had embarked on their course.
Even the exams regulator Ofqual have stated that moving the goalposts mid-course was likely to have a negative effect on pupils in a large number of schools but the scrapping of modular assessment in favour of an all-in final examination was imposed, even if some students would be disadvantaged.
Worse, this has been done without any evidence that this would improve student learning. Indeed, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have been critical of the dropping of the “speaking and listening” element of the English GCSE stating that these skills are more important in the world of work than writing essays.
Like the pub bore, unaccountably annoyed that more young people seem to be successful than in their day, Michael Gove chose to believe that this was because the way they were assessed had made it “easier” to gain qualifications, not because of much improved teaching, facilities and, frankly, student application.
I was educated from the mid-70’s to the early ‘90’s, the improvements in all three of those areas since then are astronomical. I therefore find tedious bleating about “grade inflation” laughable. To allow this prejudice to actually inform education policy is incredible.
Politicians should be enablers of trained educators not dictators to them. The sooner we put the profession in charge of education policy the better for students, parents, schools and the wider country.
The school’s A level and GCSE results continue to be well above the national average, even bucking the national trend to improve on last year, but that is only half the story.
The results of this cohort of students are made all the more remarkable set against the background of the huge changes that they were subject to.
Following the 2009 Essex County Council consultation that identified significant surplus secondary school places in Brentwood, agreement was reached to close Sawyers Hall College (SHC) and open a vocational facility for the access of local youngsters on the site.
As part of this, SHS agreed to transition remaining pupils despite the disruption that this could cause in the short term. The cohort that has just successfully completed their GCSEs included 35 former SHC students, a similar number having been integrated into the year above.
There has been little local acknowledgement of the challenges posed in integrating a group more than the size of a whole class, between key stages, with friendships already formed and with loyalties to their former school still fresh, into a larger new peer group. To do so with such a degree of long term success is highly impressive.
Factor in too the support for families , many of whom were very upset at losing SHC and were now having to cope with new travel arrangements, new uniform on top of everything else and you can see the pastoral challenge was as great as the academic one.
Head teacher Carole Herman took charge of the school after the integration had been agreed and with the expectation of playing a role in the agreed vocational facility. Despite the original plan being overridden, putting more obstacles in their path, the commitment to all students, new and old, did not waver.
These results are a significant indicator that she and her staff have served these pupils, their parents and the wider community very well.
The whole town owes them a debt of gratitude.