It’s nice to see Nick Gibb explaining how harder GCSEs are going to lift all standards. It must be ace to be a politician, all happy in your oak-panelled office that the grand plan you scribbled down on a piece of paper, but took no part in actually delivering, is defo going to work.
It’s a little tougher if you’re a teacher sweating in the classroom with a child who struggles with memory skills. Still, you’ve got to give politicians their moments in the sun: at last they’ve solved our national spreadsheet nightmare of trying to add up lettered grades to give value-added scores. Plus there’s the benefit of greater differentiation among top achievers to help out our universities, which are now reliant on GCSE grades after AS-level grades disappeared.
But what of the children who receive lower grades? What do these new GCSEs do for them?
Politicians don’t like mentioning children who get low grades; they’re a bit of a dirty secret. So thank heavens for people like Conservative MP Graham Stuart, who mentioned back in 2011, when the tougher GCSE idea was first mooted, that perhaps someone ought to pay attention to the fact that around half of all children weren’t getting five C grades at GCSE with English and maths included – and that was before things were to be made “more rigorous”. Why, he wondered, would anyone think it was a bankrupt qualification? Why make out like the old GCSEs were easy?
Simple: it gives politicians something to say. The wheels on the blowhard bus must go round. And so politicians have prattled on for the past six years about the new 9 grade, and “world-class” standards and bright-but-poor kids, and have utterly ignored the fact that these new GCSEs do sod all for the kids who were already getting low grades and have pretty terrible outcomes. You know, the kids we probably ought to worry about.
The wheels on the blowhard bus must go round
The new system is particularly problematic for these pupils as there are fewer grades at the bottom, which is a pain for colleges. Previously, a student with a D grade was treated differently to ones with Es, Fs or Gs. Tomorrow, students achieving a 3 grade will be a mix of D and Es, a broader category, which will make it harder to figure out their best course. At the top end, while everyone is happily sifting through the best of the best, we will have less precision at the bottom.
Plus, and I really do want to labour this point, nothing has changed for any of these children. No-one getting a 3 grade is more “world-class” than before. No-one has more options than last year. The only difference now is that if you get a grade 3 or below, you’ve not only notionally failed because you didn’t get a C-equivalent “good pass”, you’ve also really and properly failed because you didn’t even meet the newly-labelled “standard pass” grade 4. From tomorrow, if you receive a 1 to 3 grade, you are “sub-standard”. Nice.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bleeding-heart plea that no one should ever be allowed to fail at anything. But it is a shame that after seven years of reform, resources, speeches and teachers’ sweat and tears, we have essentially given a tiny percentage of children finer-graded outcomes, and left the rest with less – even as Nick Gibb crows about his own achievements.
What an utter waste of a decade.