Sunday, 26 August 2012

Why the decision to lower GCSE English grades must be overturned.


This week thousands of students were given lower grades in their English GCSE than they expected, which some people probably thought was a good thing, as it showed that at last someone was making GCSEs tougher and stopping kids leaving school with hundreds of A* grades and waltzing into sixth form colleges when in reality they can barely write their own name. Unfortunately, however sensible it might seem to make GCSEs more challenging, this was a terrible injustice.

The English GCSE can be taken at two points in the year, January or June. In January of this year, students needed fewer points to get their grades than they did in June when the margins were raised significantly. Gaining a C grade in controlled assessment pieces required an additional three points out of forty, which meant that many students who had been told by their teachers to expect a C, suddenly found themselves with a D.

To give students different grades for pieces of work of the same quality in the same year of assessment is unfair, and also prejudice. What some people might not realise, especially the privileged people who make these decisions, is that the students who are most affected by this, the group we call the C/D borderline, have a raw deal as it is, and the last thing someone should be doing is making their lives more difficult. Teaching these students does not involve witty discussions on Shakespeare. They need constant reminders about how to use paragraphs, when to use complex sentences and how to identify and explain the use of adjectives. They are missing core English skills because quite often they are speaking a second language, or grew up in a household without any books in, or they have been through a series of foster homes, or suffered emotional and behavioural issues. Predominately, they are working class, and the last thing someone should be doing is ruining their chances of going to college and escaping unemployment because GCSE grades need to be lowered to show voters that exams are becoming more stringent.

So, along with plenty of disappointed teenagers, I am hoping that in the next few weeks the Education Secretary, Ofqual and the exam boards make the right decision and forget about targets and politics and give these students the grades they deserve. Otherwise, they will be doing irreparable damage to the section of society that most needs their support and protection.