GCSE Results Day 2017: More Suffolk students pass English and maths despite tougher exams
- Credit: Gregg Brown
More students in Suffolk passed toughened-up English and maths GCSE exams despite sweeping reforms, initial figures suggest.
A total of 63% of students achieved at least a grade 4 (the old C grade) in both subjects, according to self-reported results from 80% of schools, Suffolk County Council said last night.
Results in 2017 cannot be compared with previous years due to overhauls in exam, curriculum and grading scales. But under the old system, the figure represents a two-point percentage annual rise. The equivalent national figure has not been released, but Suffolk’s mark is above Norfolk (62.3%), but below Essex (66.2%), which itself rose from 64%.
It comes as headteachers repeat calls for stability in education amid praise for pupils and teachers who have “performed miracles” despite being so called guinea pigs for former education secretary Michael Gove’s reforms.
David Hutton, headteacher of Northgate High School in Ipswich, said: “(The reforms) are confusing. No-one really knows where we stand in the national picture at this stage. It’s confusing for parents and pupils.
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“It was very difficult for teachers (and) students went into these new exams without any texts, completely blind.
“We desperately need a period of stability. We won’t get it, of course, because although we have got the maths and English coming through in a 9-1 system this year, other subjects will be changing over another period of time. There are still lots of turmoil.”
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He said there was a lot of anxiety among pupils, adding: “There is this perception out there in society that the youth are lazy and don’t really care – they work incredibly hard and they want good results, and that brings anxiety of course. We try to prepare them as much as possible, give them the material they need for revision, and give advice.”
Yesterday marked the biggest shake-up in exams in a generation. Traditional A* to G grades are being gradually replaced with a nine-to-one numerical grading system. Nine is the best mark, seven is equivalent to an A, and four is the pass mark. Five is a ‘high C’. English and maths were the first and only subjects to move over this year.
The new English and maths courses have more content and are tougher generally. In maths, there is more content on topics such as number, ration and proportion, and pupils have to show clear mathematical arguments for their calculations and remember key formulae.
In English language, pupils now have to read a wider range of texts from different genres and time periods, and more importance is given to spelling, punctuation and grammar.
In English literature, students have to read a wide range of classic literature, including 19th century novels, Shakespeare and the Romantic poets.
Former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Congratulations to the pupils and their teachers on this year’s GCSE results which have been achieved in very challenging circumstances.
“They have performed miracles amidst a sea of curriculum change which continues unabated next year.”
He added: “We are concerned to see a slight decline in the overall rate for grades C/ 4, and above, and fear that this may be the result of driving children down this narrow academic route which does not necessarily suit every child.
“In addition, the new reformed GCSEs are more challenging and children sit more exams.”
Holbrook Academy emerged as the best state school in Suffolk, outperforming some fee-paying independent schools. Some 89% of pupils achieved the holy grail of a grade 4 in English and maths.
The results were “nothing short of spectacular”, headteacher Dr Simon Letman said. The Ofsted good-rated school was removed from special measures just four years ago, completing a remarkable turnaround.
Elsewhere, Ormiston Denes Academy in Lowestoft recorded a 20-percentage point rise to 53% of pupils achieving the expected standard in English and maths.
Stowmarket High School also posted a 15-percentage point improvement, up to 60%.
The self-reported school figures in Suffolk also show an increase in disadvantaged pupils achieving the threshold measure in English and maths. It rose by six percentage points to 48%.
All results will be verified by the Department for Education in early 2018.
Councillor Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, said: “I would like to congratulate Suffolk’s young people on these fantastic results. They are a testament to the hard work and commitment shown by pupils, parents, teachers and governors. This early indication puts our students in a strong position to go on to higher education.
“Through our Raising the Bar programme we continue to work with, and challenge schools to drive up educational attainment. We are committed to establishing and maintaining an education system that allows every child to reach their full potential.
“Since the launch of Raising the Bar in 2012, GCSE results have continuously improved and 88% of our schools are now judged ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. This rate is continuing to improve faster than the national average; over the last year, Suffolk schools have reduced the gap to national by more than 5% and we are now just 1% below the national figure.”
Another key measure, Progress 8, which could in future be the headline figure for all schools, is set to be released in October.
It measures how well pupils progress between the end of primary and the end of secondary school. The score for each pupil is based on whether their scores are higher or lower than those achieved by pupils who had similar attainment at the end of primary school.
The old system was criticised for encouraging schools to focus on pupils on the C/D borderline.