Sunday, 7 April 2013

How do we know we're doing things right? (Part 1)

One of the questions I regularly get asked is how do I know that we're doing great things? (& ok, maybe not in those words, but that's how I interpret it!). And I can see where people are coming from. Sandymoor is a brand new school, and so we don't have any exam results or Ofsted inspections for people to look at. However, there are two fundamental flaws in that line of questioning, in my opinion:

First off, exam results and league tables can be manipulated and don't ever tell the whole story. There are many, many ways a school can (& so many do) manipulate their statistics to help massage their exam results and position in league tables. All of them perfectly legal and above board, but not necessarily focused on the individual students. Unfortunately, it is tricky to explain quickly because the exam system and how league tables are calculated are so complex, but here goes ...

If we start with the basics. Schools are judged, for most league tables, in a number of ways, but the simplest is the percentage of students who achieve 5 or more GCSEs at a grade C or above. And this sounds simple enough, but a school looking to get the best on this measure would/could play a joker, by having students sit equivalent qualifications. As an example, a school could get a group of students to sit a BTEC in IT, which is worth the same as 2 GCSEs, which is pretty much entirely gained through a portfolio of work developed over the course. And then if some of the same students sat a similar qualification in, say, Business (also worth 2 GCSEs), they only then have to sit and pass one GCSE exam to have gained the 5+ measure for the school. So a school could, with very little effort, score even 100% on this measure, but have a significant number of students who don't have either a significant range or quality of qualifications.

So a tougher measure is the percentage of students who have 5 or more GCSEs, including English and Maths. This would, at least, ensure that the students are sitting GCSEs in the essential subjects, but could still result in 'filling up' the count with potentially inappropriate qualifications.

Maybe the toughest measure, then, is based around the controversial introduction of the English Baccalaureate (or EBacc for short). Now, this isn't (currently) a separate qualification, but is an indication that a minimum group of qualifications; at least a grade C in English, Maths, the Sciences, History or Geography and a language. Some statistics suggest that as few as 15% of students achieve this measure, although other research has shown that as many as 30% of students in mainstream secondary schools achieve it - a lot depends upon how the school curriculum is devised.

Next time you see a school publicising it's exam results, have a close look at which measure they are using ....

So how will this look at Sandymoor? Well, we are committed to the principal that students will sit exams when they are ready for them, rather than just because they are at a certain point in their school life. We are committing ourselves to ensuring that every student will leave Sandymoor with above a C in their English and Maths GCSEs and ideally at least 6 other equivalent qualifications. Every student will also have the ability to follow a full EBacc set of qualifications, if that is appropriate to them. We have Spanish as part of our compulsory 'Foundation' (the first two years at Sandymoor), and in fact the Foundation curriculum is designed specifically to ensure that every student has the basics required to go on and succeed in all the EBacc exams.


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