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17 August 2023

A-Level Results Day 2023 - Principal's Response

A-Level Results Day 2023 - Principals Response

I am writing this blog as the dust settles over A Level results day.

We've seen many happy, former students today, some who have left disappointed but sure of their destinations, and others who are just starting to embark on the complications of clearing in an effort to secure a university place.

This year, nationally, schools have experienced the biggest drop in results ever, as the effort to move beyond the grade inflation of the Covid years reaches its end. Five thousand fewer students in England gained three A* grades than in 2022, while the proportion of top A*-A grades shrank from 35.9% to 26.5% within a year, with grading being applied, in some subjects, even more strictly than in 2019.

Such a fall in grades will be difficult to accept for some students - particularly given the fact that two years previously, this cohort achieved the highest ever GCSE scores on record, grades which were achieved through a myriad of methods, though not with the finality of exams.

Were these students let down due to lacking the resilience garnered through a true GCSE sitting?

Should, therefore, the decision to bring in a ‘return to normalcy’ have been delayed another year?

 

My thoughts on the subject

Responding to these questions is above my responsibility - though I have thoughts on them - and I know students who fell below their expectations have far stronger thoughts than I.

Nonetheless, they play with the hand they are dealt, and they have to make the very best of it. It is all they can do.

In such circumstances, the shifting sands upon which grades, boundaries and awards are being given to students, the proliferation of statistics is unnecessary, and, quite frankly, unhelpful to everyone involved.

A quick perusal of the AQA History posts on Facebook showcase confusion at marking which is going to require some unpicking on a granular level. One head of department left scratching their head, contemplating the fact that there were “some very weird outliers where students have massively under-performed on one paper. My one A* candidate had a 29 mark difference between P1+2. Never had that before, ever. Requesting scripts, and possibly remarks too. Quite a few unhappy/disappointed parents/students.” Others have seen NEA marks moderated down - thankfully not ours - by as much as 10 marks. The most perplexing comment, perhaps, saw another teacher state that “someone who was never there in lessons got a C whilst some of my best students got Ds.”

And so, schools trumpeting statistics such as ‘100% pass rate at x school’ and ‘79 A*-C at x College’ or ‘100% of our students scored B or better in Further Maths’ provide a completely insufficient level of detail on the experiences of students this year. Such statements oversimplify and, potentially mislead. On first glance, an extremely powerful number can have little actual weight behind it.

That first school could have had 100% C, D and E grades. That next College could have had, in fact, 79% of their grades at B and C when expectations and abilities, student by student, could have been far higher. That Further Maths cohort, as they usually do, might have consisted of only 4 exceptionally good mathematicians.

If a parent wishes to find out our percentages, I’ll gladly supply them - warts and all.

Why? Because we believe in more at Ealing Independent College

Because at the College, we believe in ‘more’. More details based on a wide ranging context, cognitive ability test expectations and performance across the year gives the full picture and provides comprehensive coverage about what we do at the College. This shows just how well we know our students, how much we value them, and how far we endeavour to get the very best from them.

By giving the entirety of the detail, I could say that Theo, one of our best students, was really disappointed with his four A grades in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Economics and Computer Science, also factoring in that he currently lies 2 marks off an A* in Mathematics and 5 marks off an A* in Computer Science. (He is keen to obtain all of his papers so that he can review them closely and look for potential marking errors)

I’d also need to embellish that detail by making it clear that his standardised tests provided expectations in terms of results around the B/C mark, and I’d give him the chance to explain his perception of education before he came to the College. To quote, “Simply put, bad. I changed primary school twice because I hated it. I then joined my secondary school where I had around 30% attendance, or worse, during my last year and got detentions almost everyday. I left that school in year 8 and finished the year at an online school, after looking at and trying countless other schools, which was alright but not sustainable. I wouldn’t describe myself as lazy but rather unmotivated and unbothered, I didn’t see the point in education.”

I’d also want to let prospective parents know about the ups and downs which Theo went through this year with his applications to university, but the words would come best from him - “I also had a very stressful and difficult time getting five rejections from really prestigious courses with limited places, however the teachers were very supportive and gave me useful advice.” That advice was both well received and then heartily actioned by Theo, to the extent that the College was truly the making of him - and he appreciates that.

We know this because he tells us. When he came to EIC he tells us that, “straight away I felt an immediate change, the teachers seemed to care and everyone was much closer like a community, the standard of teaching was much higher and more attention was given to each individual. He continues by saying that “The college for me has helped me in more ways than academically. Although it has helped me majorly in an academic sense, that is not what I am most grateful for. The college has helped me build my character, developing life skills and appreciating the importance of education. Therefore, I believe my character would be far from how it is now if I hadn’t attended.”

So, Theo will never be just Theo-AAAA to us. He’ll never just be part of an A*-A percentage for us.

 

For context, let's look at this a little closer

He’ll always be Theo, who joined us in Year 9, having doubted whether education was really for him. 

He’s Theo, who, in his own words, admits that “to begin with I would mess around a bit but with time I became a better student and appreciated the school more, wanting to do well academically.”

He’s Theo who grew in confidence to become a determined debater, who shone in a Model UN conference at MIT in Boston and became an incredibly positive role model at the College.

He’s Theo who stood in at the last minute to help the football team out despite the fact that he’d never played a match before - and subsequently overpowered a striker to help preserve a 2-1 victory.

He’s Theo, who I had no hesitation in nominating for the Whitbread prize, for our most exceptional GCSE student, in 2021, and who, despite not winning, was highly commended.

He’s Theo, who has matured so far in his time here that he can utilise time for reflection to come to terms with changing circumstances, and explain, with consideration that “now I have a university offer which now I genuinely prefer than any of the 5 I got rejected from, although this time was hard, it was useful and gave me a new perspective being that rejection is just redirection.”

Of course, every student is not like this, but the transformation which he has undergone is not atypical. He has grown to be an empowered student, who values the inclusive community which has aided his personal development.

I could, and would, write similar summaries of progress for each and every one of our leavers today - because in this case, less is not more. In fact, more is exactly what we should be giving our students in these days of stress and anxiety, and at Ealing Independent College, it’s exactly the kind of support we always strive to provide.

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