I do, Augustus. I do.
I do, Augustus. I do.
This morning, my brother was one of thousands of teenagers collecting their GCSE results. After years of schooling comes the nerve-wracking moment when you hold an A4 brown envelope in your hands and wonder whether all of your hard work has resulted in something you’re proud of. I remember the feeling.
My brother did extremely well and, as a family, we’re all so proud of him. So why is it, then, that reflecting on today has left a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth?
One of the most controversial topics of the day has been the dramatic 1.9% drop in grades A*-C achieved in English. This is in complete contrast to the general trend, which sees grades continue to improve over the years in all subjects. Many have been quick to blame this disparity on the reforms to the English curriculum mid-way through this cohort’s teaching and I don’t think it takes a genius to work out that moving the benchmark halfway through a course is deeply unfair to everyone involved – the teachers who have spent hours planning lessons that will help each of their students reach their potential, as well as the students, who are already under such an intense amount of exam pressure at such a vulnerable age.
That, however, is a debate for another time; what has struck me the most today is that something is deeply flawed with the education system itself and there seems to be little prospect of reform.
My brother was one of those affected by the drop in English grades, achieving for whatever reason a D instead of his predicted B. He is luckier than many in that it does not affect his next steps – his planned route is still open to him unlike many others who must now be wondering what the future holds for them. But what angers me about the system is that my brother is statistically an educational failure.
The league tables count the percentage of pupils who achieve 5 A*-C grades, including Maths and ENGLISH. Never mind that my brother achieved As and Bs in all of his other subjects; his D in English makes him invisible in the league tables. Where he will be very visible, however, is in the statistics about the number of students from deprived backgrounds who fail to make the grade. Statistics show that only 39.7% of those in receipt of free school meals, the standard generally used as a measure of economic disadvantage, go on to achieve 5 A*-C grades, including Maths and English, compared to 65.3% of the cohort as a whole (Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/293662/KS4_Impact_indicator_8_v2.pdf). Up until a couple of years ago, my brother and I were eligible for free school meals and so, as a result of a lower than expected grade in ONE subject, my brother has become part of the 60.3% of students from lower economic backgrounds who fall through the educational system net.
It is completely ridiculous – quite clearly my brother is academically capable and has not failed his GCSEs and yet, under the current system, that is how he will be labelled. The statistics look shocking – over 60% of students in receipt of free school meals fail to achieve in their GCSEs. Yet how many exceptionally bright students, who have achieved great things in other subjects but have simply struggled with English or Maths, are not represented by this? How many students who have worked hard, and achieved results they should be proud of, have been labelled failures and made to feel as if their efforts were not good enough?
Furthermore, the A*-C economy often favours only the students on the C/D borderline – those who may achieve the necessary C grades but will need a bit of extra work to get there. Who can blame struggling schools, who need to boost their league table performance, for focusing on those students whilst others deemed unlikely to attain a C or likely to achieve it with ease are left to their own devices? I’m sure thousands of teachers do try to challenge every member of their class to reach their full potential but many others are stretched for time or resources and the way the league tables are set out means that they need to get as many students as possible that coveted C.
I don’t know what the solution is. What I do know is that everybody deserves the opportunity to achieve their full potential in the education system, whatever their final grade is likely to be. And no-one deserves to be labelled a failure of the education system at age 16 – everyone who has worked hard and tried their best should be allowed to feel proud of their achievements, whatever their grades and whatever their background.