29 Jan 2015
Those who hurt most shout loudest, obviously, so it's no surprise that schools who suddenly find that their IGCSE performance counts for nought in the new league tables are protesting. But surely it's not a surprise to these schools that it's happened - the writing has been on the wall for a long time. Gove made no suggestion that anything other than GCSEs and listed, "high quality" vocational qualifications would be used in performance tables and no-one has said anything different since.
Schools have, for years, played the system, in order to try to boost their positions - this has led to schools adopting IGCSEs and BTECs, as well as anything that would, previously, have contributed points towards the total. Gove didn't like these strategies as they hide the true performance of the school and so did something about it as soon as possible. It took longer to work through than his time in office lasted, but it's now starting to come home to roost.
Heads are complaining about the chaos because it's not really possible to compare data with previous years, which is what schools themselves want. However, the tables are really for consumers in order to compare schools to each other. If a school is offering qualifications which the government doesn't recognise as being of value, why would consumers consider sending their children to it?
Another issue of course, is that the "first entry" rule caught everyone on the hop as it was rushed through - again, it was meant to prevent playing the system, but the impact was felt unevenly across schools, who had no time to adjust. This did not particularly affect those who were "playing the system" any more than others, and it even affected students differently who were in the same school. So, yes, chaos is a good word for it.
So, are IGCSEs and other non-GCSEs "worth less" than GCSEs, or is just that it's difficult to compare them? The main difference is that these other qualifications offer different methods of assessment (and of course different content, but that's less of a differentiator) - IGCSEs didn't use coursework, BTECs had more continuous assessment. Schools chose them because they suited their students (especially BTECs for lower attaining students) or because they suited the school's ethos - independents liked the academic branding of IGCSEs, many schools liked the lack of coursework if their students didn't need the boost that coursework offered.
It's all change again in the next few years anyway: GCSEs are changing for some subjects, but not others; Progress Eight will change everything completely and A-level reform is also being introduced piecemeal. League tables will be meaningless as true comparators for the next five years - some say they've always been meaningless - so why not let's all think about how we can show off the unique characteristics of our own schools and market them more effectively?
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