School leaders: your ‘5 or above’ GCSE percentage is a headline measure

A lot of school leaders don’t seem to realise that the new “5 and above” rate is the measure on which the school will be judged. That’s because Justine Greening managed to bury the news.

Back in March, she said in a letter to the education select committee that the new GCSE grade 4 would represent a “standard pass” and the 5 grade would be a “strong pass”.

Letter sent by Justine Greening on GCSE reform

She said both rates would be published in school league tables. The percentage of pupils achieving a 4 or above as well as 5 or above would therefore be public.

Lots of people sighed relief at the news. The 5-and-above measure is not comparable to anything in the past. It is therefore quite a stressful measure because it’s difficult to tell if you have done well on it because there’s no past to compare it to.

It also sounded as though both the 4 and 5 grades were going to be the performance measure for schools.

With hindsight, however, that letter had some very slippery language in it.

Look again at it (right): Greening says she will “continue to publish” the 4+ measure in performance tables. She then says the 5+ one (the “strong pass”) would also be “one of the benchmarks used to measure the performance of schools”.

That “one of” makes it seem like it is being added to the 4+ measure which schools have historically been measured on (though it was called A*-C then).

At no point does Greening say the 4+ measure is disappearing or that it won’t matter for school performance. The emphasis is very much that the 5+ measure is additional.

Unfortunately, however, that’s not the case.

The Statement of Intent for 2017 – which is the official guideline on the way schools will be judged – came out last month and does not mention 4 or above anywhere as a headline measure.

What will matter, in order of importance, are the measures below.

Key stage 4 headline measures 2017

Sadly, it will be tough to work out the national picture for many of these measures until more data is released in October.

But we do know that the percentage of pupils across the country achieving a 5 or above is around 18 per cent lower than the amount achieving a 4 or above.

Therefore if your 4+ rate is around what you expected based on past data, and your 5+ rate is no more than about 19 per cent lower, you are doing okay.

It’s a sneaky trick, though. In the past few days I’ve had a number of people tell me the headline measure will be both the 4+ and the 5+ rate “because Greening said she would publish both”.

She did say that, but it doesn’t mean what many people have taken it to mean. Sorry!




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