Commenting on the publication of provisional secondary school performance tables in England
, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“Today’s school performance tables show us that 35.6% of pupils – more than 190,000 young people – fell short of achieving at least a Grade 4 ‘standard pass’ in GCSE English and maths at the end of 12 years of schooling1. Every year this ‘forgotten third’ is a feature of our exam system not by accident but because it is baked in by the mechanism used to distribute grades. We cannot continue to accept that one-third of pupils must ‘fail’ in order that two-thirds succeed.
“The government has raised the bar another notch by describing a Grade 5 as a ‘strong pass’. Well over half of young people – 57% this year – do not attain this benchmark in GCSE English and maths despite all the effort they have put into their studies. It is a measure designed to raise standards but in fact risks leaving students feeling demoralised even though they have done really well. And it does not make sense in any case because the distribution of grades is roughly similar from one year to the next wherever the bar is set.
“ASCL’s Commission of Inquiry into the Forgotten Third has recommended a solution – a Passport in English, and in time maths, taken by pupils at the point of readiness between the ages of 15 and 19. We believe this would provide a viable alternative to the annual ritual of consigning large numbers of young people to a sense of failure. Our policy-making body, ASCL Council, last week adopted the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry in full.
“The government would serve the best interests of young people better by focusing on this issue rather than flogging its obsession with the English Baccalaureate measure which has this year crept up to an entry rate of 40%. This is still a long way short of its target of 75% studying the EBacc subject combination at GCSE by 2022, and 90% by 2025. This target is unachievable because there are simply not enough language teachers in the system to fulfil that subject element of the EBacc and we note this is the most commonly missing element. While we fully support an academically rigorous curriculum, the EBacc combination is not necessarily the right choice for virtually every student and it should be consigned to history.”
1 See Table 2 figures for all state-funded schools