Education: Pupils were the guinea pigs in year of changes for the sake of change

GCSE results day at Handsworth Grange Community Sports College.
GCSE results day at Handsworth Grange Community Sports College.

A welcome announcement by by education officials this week declared that Sheffield secondary schoolswill be treated with sympathy if their results dropped this summer.

The decision, which applied to all schools in the country, will be met with relief by schools who have struggled at a very difficult time.

There have been schools in the city that have seen results in certain subjects fall – despite year-on-year improvements in the recent past.

I know departments that have enjoyed fantastic success for the last 10 years – only for results to have been dealt a blow this year.

The uncertainty created this year has its roots in Michael Gove’s meddling with the education system and the exam changes this year are the biggest for several decades.

With coursework largely a thing of the past, all subjects assessed at the end of Y11, several out-of-favour subjects in their death throes and – crucially – a new numbered grading system replacing traditional letters, there was a lot going on this year.

Far too much change for one year, it has to be said.

Teachers have had to deal with new syllabuses, which can take up hundreds of hours making resources on their own.

Some of them have had the carpet pulled from under them as their subjects disappear.

And children – not to mention their parents – are still scratching their head to figure out whether a ‘4’ is as good as a ‘C’ or not.

Confusion is king.

But at all times, our focus must be on the children – and through all the exam-based news it is them that I feel most sorry for.

This cohort has been a set of guinea pigs.

Not just for the way pass rates were toughened and fewer people got their expected grades.

But also because the content has been ratcheted up and exam structure has been changed.

They and their teachers had little idea what was coming their way – the only guidance being sample assessment material from the exam board which is generally well short of the standard needed.

But these students are the ones who have first been given their grades using a numbering system that has no comparison with previous years and has been met with confusion by many employers.

It could be argued that a switch to s numbered grading system matches with some European countries – but the biggest and most successful EU country is Germany and they grade the students in the opposite way, with a ‘1’ actuallybeing the top award.

The new grading system – like so many of our new changes – smacks of one man wanting to make his mark on the education system.

Change for the sake of change.

There was no real need to replace A*s, As and Bs and a lot of uncertainty could have been avoided for this year group – they had enough to deal with thanks to the new exam courses.

Thankfully, our schools should not be judged too harshly if things went wrong for them.

We know how new specifications take a few years to get worked out.

Sadly for this year’s Y11s, employers are unlikely to look back on the 2017 results and be lenient because it was a tough year.