Common sense wins out – eventually!
Yesterday was results day for the class of 2020, a day that a week or so ago I wasn’t looking forward to at all. The welcome anticipation of seeing our former Year 11s for the first time since March was tempered with a fear that the Government’s approach to issuing GCSE grades would lead to a gross injustice, and that our very successful cohort would lose out due to an completely unfair computer model.
Thankfully, and almost at the last minute, the Government changed their mind which enabled us to issue students with their ‘Centre assessment grades’ or CAGs as they have become known. These grades were generated by school staff between March and June and were the subject of a lot of scrutiny. As a school we recommended grades that we believed students would have achieved in their summer examinations based on all of the available evidence we had. Following the process, we then had to rank every student within a grade. For example, if there were 15 students who we thought were capable of a Grade 6 in History then we had to rank them as first, second, third and so on. This was of course a very time consuming, carefully thought out and indeed much debated task. Subject leaders and their colleagues spent an enormous amount of time weighing up the work and performance of every student. Their opinions were then moderated by Rhian Davies, Deputy Head, and then Rhian and I met several times to review every grade to make sure they were as fair and accurate as possible.
However….all the way through this process Rhian and I acted under the cloud of the expected ‘algorithm’ that Ofqual would use to moderate the results. The signs showed us that Marple Hall School students stood to be at the wrong end of a very skewed process that relied more on the performance of previous students at the school than the current student’s own ability or the school CAGs. Because the class of 2020 have been so hard working and have made so much progress, more than any other year group and significantly more than students in 2018 (whose results would form part of the algorithm), we knew that were we to submit what we really believed students could achieve then they would likely be moved down by Ofqual. With no real means of appeal and little hope of change Rhian and I debated long and hard as to where to pitch the CAGs. Some schools chose to downgrade their CAGs to be in line with the Ofqual model, some no doubt chose to push the results ridiculously high. We decided to follow a simple rule which was to submit the grades we thought each student would get, so that’s what we did our best to do whilst not completely ignoring the confines of the system. The information we were getting back kept saying we were aiming too high (based on previous year groups), but we stuck to our principles and I am so glad that we did. This does not mean that all students have done brilliantly nor that some are not disappointed; we are a comprehensive school and it is usual for some to do well and some not to. But, we are very confident that we submitted accurate grades to the best of our ability and that rightly position the Class of 2020 as the most successful in the school’s history.
Last week the nation woke up to the unfairness of the system when A Level results were announced, following similar uproar in Scotland the week before. Alongside many others Rhian and I have actually been fighting against the system since day one. I heard Gavin Williamson saying the other day that there was universal agreement with the model for moderating the grades – well, he can’t have read our consultation response back in April that laid out all our concerns in a very clear and sadly very accurate way. Once the consultation ended and it was clear that we hadn’t been listened to, I wrote to Mr Williamson directly in June, and also to the Mayor of GM Andy Burnham as well as to the Member of Parliament for Hazel Grove William Wragg MP. In the past few days Mr Burnham has been very vocal about the issue, and Mr Wragg has been very supportive throughout. He met with me in July, raised concerns in Parliament, kept up the pressure on the Department for Education long before the A Level fiasco hit the press and renewed his efforts last week. Similarly, I know that a large number of parents have done the same and I am sure it was this weight of pressure that finally led to the U-turn on Monday. I fully appreciate that CAGs are not a fool proof system. Indeed, they are possibly only the least bad approach and no doubt some schools either downplayed or overstated the grades for their students, but what is certain is that the approved algorithm would have been catastrophic for the students at MHS. Thank you to everyone who helped to get this unfair algorithm scrapped. It was with great relief that we were able to share genuine grades with students yesterday, even though of course some students or parents may disagree with some of our judgements.
So where did that leave us? Well…yesterday we celebrated with the class of 2020. A year group who since day one have embodied the Marple Hall Spirit and who have helped to move our school forwards in so many ways. Were this a normal year, with normal school performance tables, then I believe we would be securely in the top 10% of schools nationally. I wish the class of 2020 all the very best of luck for the future and will remember them very fondly indeed.
Looking forward we can now turn out attention to plans for reopening in September, and next week we will share details of how we plan to keep students and staff safe in school.
Until then I wish you a good weekend.