Written evidence submitted by Mr Anthony Boyle
Dear Elected Members of the Education Select Committee
I feel compelled to write to draw further attention to the injustice inherent in the decisions made by Ofqual regarding the processes to be undertaken in arriving at the final awarded grades to pupils in public examinations this summer.
As you will be aware a consultation took place around the initial proposal. I responded and drew attention to the fact that this will inevitably disadvantage some pupils. It does not allow for the impact of improvements in the provision in certain schools, as it will cap results based on previous performance of an examination centre over time, if the centre assessed grades nationally aggregate to give results that don't align with the comparable outcomes model.
As members of the committee I appreciate how you have expressed concern and understanding of the effect of the current lockdown on the most disadvantaged pupils in our schools and the likely impact on their public examination results next year and possibly for younger pupils. As a school with c.50% disadvantaged pupils I share your committee’s concern and can promise you that we are and will strive to address this but in the meantime what to draw ti your attention we are being asked to “swallow” the injustice for our current cohort of Year 11 disadvantaged pupils.
As a school we have undergone significant changes in recent years, including academisation, and these changes have had a positive impact on the learning of all of our pupils. In October 2019 a Section 5 Ofsted inspection judged our Leadership and Management to be Good but the Quality of Education, a limiting judgement, was judged as Requires Improvement. We were told that this was because our performance in public examination results was not yet good and although we were able to show a sustained improvement in comparison to the immediate years including pre-academisation they said they were unable to consider results before academisation as it was technically a different school. This year's results would have been crucial evidence of sustained impact but the Ofqual decision means they won't allow it to happen. This does have implications for the school in terms of a key factor influencing parental choice, when we are told by prospective parents who went elsewhere that it is examination performance and Ofsted judgements that have been crucial in informing their choice. This has led to a falling roll and very significant budget issues. We have just been able to stem the fall in numbers for September 2020.
However, I want to be clear that this is not about the wider effect of this decision on the school and its future but it is about the most immediate effect that the Ofqual decision is likely to have on the results of individual pupils this year.
We have undertaken a rigorous internal process to establish the rank order of the pupils in every subject and have also identified in every subject which grade we believe each individual pupil would have achieved based on the standards required for particular grades in 2019. We have been absolutely clear with our colleagues that this is not an opportunity to report improved examination results without robust evidence to support this. Where reported results have appeared higher than the previous year's we have undertaken further challenge to ensure that there is evidence for this improvement. This process has been subject to scrutiny at a local governing body and MAT board level. We have standardised with our historically higher performing sponsor secondary MAT school over time to ensure that our standards are in line with theirs at a subject level. In the light of this we will be submitting centre assessed grades that show some improvement compared to previous performance but are aware that the processes that Ofqual have put in place will jeopardise some of the grades. Inevitably, given that c.50% of our cohort are Disadvantaged, if any number of results are moved downwards to preserve comparable outcomes then some Disadvantaged pupils will receive lower grades because of the school they attend. I think you will agree that this can only be described as unjust.
I am aware that my own professional body, ASCL, has been part of the consultation. I wrote in similar detail to Geoff Barton to raise this issue with him. He wrote back to me acknowledging that it is unfair but saying that there is nothing that can be done because, in the current model of comparable outcomes, for one school's results to improve another's must go backwards and so what might be fairer to one would inevitably lead to another school complaining that they had been disadvantaged by a presumption that they would decline. No doubt they would be able to produce a body of evidence to suggest that they had taken steps to address declining results. This is not an acceptable justification for an unwillingness to challenge this injustice for my pupils and others in similar circumstances.
As I identified with him this is a matter of social justice, it is likely that more vociferous non-disadvantaged parents would kick up more of a challenge to the application of a declining results whereas the parents of disadvantaged pupils would be likely to be more accepting of lower than expected results. We must be their voice.
It might be helpful to give a scenario for the likely reality of the Ofqual decision at a local level.
St Mary's Catholic College is on the Wirral which has the opportunity for parents to apply for grammar school places in Year 6 and sit the 11+ examination.
A Disadvantaged child chooses St Mary's and a different non-disadvantaged pupil a local grammar school. The pupils have identical KS2 SATs scores. The disadvantaged child comes to St Mary's and works incredibly hard for 5 years and in their Year 11 mock examination, using last year's past papers and mark scheme scores, a 7 in mathematics. The pupil at the local grammar school has not been so engaged with their learning and in their school scores a 5 in their mock examination using the same papers. The teachers in both schools report a centre assessed grade of 7. The teacher in the grammar school argues that the pupil would have learned from their mocks, stepped up their efforts and improved significantly by the final examination. The teacher at St Mary's says that the pupil would have consolidated the grade 7 but they are not confident that they would have achieved an 8.
Analysis of centre assessed grades nationally indicate that there are too many 7s and a downward adjustment must be made to some centres. The grammar school has the historic higher performance (in line with the average National P8 for grammar schools which is about +0.4. P8, in addition to other favourable factors, the points values advantages cohorts that can achieve at the highest end - more likely in a selective cohort. Grammar schools have far fewer disadvantaged pupils.) and so the pupil in the grammar school retains their reported 7 and the St Mary's pupil is awarded a 6.
No one has disputed that this would/could not happen. How can this be right? There will be no right of appeal against this.
Ofqual's response that unhappy pupils can sit GCSEs or A Levels next academic year is just not good enough as it will inevitably disproportionately affect pupils in certain schools ie those with poorer historic performance and further disrupt their education.
What should these pupils do in September? Start new Level 3 courses based on what they should have achieved and try to study for resits at the same time - further disadvantaging them against their peers in grammars schools who will probably just be able to focus on their Level 3 courses? Resit the whole year? There is also the disproportionate additional workload for staff and examination costs for some schools that compound the injustice.
In summary, I recognise that we are all faced with unprecedented times and finding solutions to unforeseen circumstances but, at a time when the evidence suggests that it is the most socially disadvantaged communities that have been affected by coronavirus, and, by your own committee’s admission, are in danger for years to come, it cannot be acceptable that the solution that Ofqual have come to regarding public examination results this year has built a system that punishes children because of the school they attend.
Analysis identifies that, overall, disadvantaged pupils are likely to be in higher proportions in historically lower performing schools. Therefore, inevitably, this will further disadvantage the disadvantaged, regardless of their personal engagement with education and ignoring the work of the teachers over the five years in those schools. Please exercise your powers to challenge this patent injustice.
St Mary's Catholic College, Wallasey