From a U to an A grade at GCSE and A-level! The story of my week…

Part 1

I intended to write this blog about the effect a school has on a child, and on the grades they achieve. However, I had such an eventful week that I think it would be unforgivable not to share it with parents. The week was characterised by two events in particular, and over this and the following blog I will discuss both with you. Here, I will give an account of this challenging time, both its difficult beginning and successful outcome, before turning to my response. I am still debating the professionalism of this response. Please read on!

Earlier in the week I received an e-mail from a parent who was disappointed that his son had not done well in Chemistry. Although he just missed an A by two marks in Biology, he actually failed Chemistry. While the excellent performance in Biology was welcome, I was concerned about the Chemistry result. For this reason I was anxious to catch up with the other students on Saturday, to see what the general picture looked like. I made a point of speaking to every AS and A2 student in the morning and the results went from strength to strength as I spoke to them. In fact the overall results are among the best we have ever had for the January modules. The GCSE results were even better.

In my two decades in the secondary education system, both as a Physics teacher and as a curriculum leader, my experience shows that Chemistry A-level can be tricky. I am fortunate to have taught in grammar schools and also in the independent sector, where high achievement is not only expected but demanded at all times, a challenge I have always relished. The reason I’ve always been a little apprehensive when awaiting the results for Chemistry A-level is that even very gifted students, who often achieve an A grade or better in Physics and Maths, sometimes struggle to achieve the same grade in Chemistry. I do not think this discrepancy is due to a requirement for a higher IQ to excel in Chemistry, but rather that there are certain skills needed to master Chemistry at this level. In addition, there is also a large gap between GCSE Chemistry and AS level.

It saddens me when hard working students make sacrifices and attend extra tuition classes but do not achieve as highly as expected. I feel sorry for the young person, but also for parents who dug deep into their pockets to fork out their hard earned cash. I also feel that maybe we could have done things differently. However, both my self and most parents understand that seeking extra support from the school or college the student attends does not provide a cast iron guarantee, but only increases the student’s chances of a higher grade. We have an excellent record of success and this is the very reason why some parents pay close to £400 a day to send their children to us for extra tuition. I must say that it is very important for parents to do their homework when looking for extra tuition and make sure they send their children to a centre, or seek the service of a tutor who is likely to make a real difference to their child’s exam grade. How long a centre has been set up or how experienced a tutor is are both relevant but do not tell the whole picture! A centre, or extra tuition/revision provider with a well-oiled publicity machine can certainly catch one’s eye, but the question is: what are the chances of your son or daughter achieving a higher grade at the end of it? It is so important to get support which is of real quality, and also vital to seek this help early on.

Back to the young man who has not achieved as highly as we all expected. I spoke to the Chemistry teacher and also the student himself, to try and find a strategy for achieving the necessary improvement in the summer examination, as it is only the January module. I am very optimistic that we will be able to turn things around in the main exams in the summer.

The second main event that happened to me last Saturday, which made me question my professionalism, fits in nicely with the topic that I originally planned to write me blog on. In next blog I will discuss the second issue which arose from this eventful week.