It is rather depressing to see that most young people who sit their GCSE in Maths examinations for the second time fail to achieve any improvement. For English, over 60% of those who resit do not improve on the grade they achieved when they sat the exam for the first time. The figure is even worse for Maths as it is two thirds of students who do not improve. Only 11% of those who resat English GCSE and 7% of those who resat Maths actually achieve a C grade or better.
Official figures from the government show that 250,000 students fail to achieve a C grade in English and Maths. It is a good thing that the government insist that any teenager who obtains a D grade or worse in English and Maths must remain in education and continue to study the subjects. Given the fact that most young people who resit the examinations in these two subjects fail to improve, there is a major concern here if we are not to condemn a quarter of a million young people to a future with very little opportunity and hopelessness. Teenagers in Britain fare worse in the international performance league table of PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment. British teenagers have slid down from the top four a couple or so decades ago to nearer the bottom. Looking at all the above facts, would it be correct to come to the conclusion that the education system in Britain is one of the worse in the Industrialised world? My answer to this is ‘not quite’.
The reason behind my answer is that my observation shows that many schools in Britain remain the envy of the world. The British education system is very much like anything British – world standard at the very top end, but quite mediocre and often below the ordinary for the rest. One example of this phenomenon is in engineering and technology. If one looks back at the Concord or Rolls Royce, they are the very best in technology and engineering. Sadly the engineering brilliance of Rolls Royce is not replicated in less prestigious British cars. Beyond the very top, everything else is pretty much mediocre. This is clear from a couple of decades ago with examples such as Rover! It is not so apparent any more as we live in a global economy.
The envy of the world
Coming back to the schools and the education system, the elite of society in Asian and Africa countries are queuing up – either to send their children to British Private Schools such at Eton and Harrow or to establish a satellite of such schools in their own country. It must be said that it is not just the public schools (top private schools) that are brilliant. There are many state schools that compete very well with the top public schools in terms of examination results. It is sometimes the case in extra curricular activities such as sports and music. A fraction of state schools – mostly grammar schools are perhaps almost just as good as public schools. The only problem is that there are very few of those so not every parent has the opportunity of choosing one of those for their sons and daughters.
Resit – an ugly word!
Returning to the question of exam success and resits for GCSE, what I’ll say to parents is that at this time of the year, they should not even entertain any discussion of a resit for GCSE or mention the word ‘resit’ in front of their teenagers. The mere mentioning of the word at this critical stage leads to confusion and complacency.
The vast majority of young people are capable of achieving high examination grades at GCSE in English, Science and Maths. Although we are now at the beginning of February, the content and demand of the existing GCSE is such that there is enough time to prepare and do well in the summer examinations; irrespective of their current position. For the vast majority of students – including those who are in Y11 (the final year of GCSE), any young person who is well focussed and who receives the appropriate support from their teachers in school has sufficient time to prepare for GCSE and achieve good grades in the summer exams. When I speak of good grades, I’m not just talking about a grade C but higher exam grades that are more reflective of the child’s ability. The only exceptions are those who are very new to the education system or have serious issue with language. Schools these days are good in providing alternative qualifications such as BTEC and GNVQ for those students who do not have the academic ability to achieve good GCSE pass grades. If anything, schools often go to the opposite extreme and are too cautious. They sometimes misdiagnose students and put students who are capable of good GCSE grades on the vocation programme of BTEC and GNVQ.
For A-level, it is not surprising that over 98% of students pass A-level’s these days by achieving grades between A* and E. Students who are perceived as lacking the academic competence of A-level are compelled to the vocational courses instead. Of the 98% who passed A-level last year, over 77% of them achieved grades between A* and C. There are a couple of other qualifications such as the IB (International Baccalaureate) and the Cambridge Pre-U – which are more academically demanding than A-level. These two courses are more popular among the top performing secondary schools and colleges.
In my next blog, I will explore the wider issue of poor performance at GCSE and look as far back as primary schools and the quality of primary school teachers – particularly in subjects such as Maths and English.
Facts and figures about GCSE exam Resit ”