Our pupil recruitment season for next year has just come to an end and during the course of the last few months I have met lots of pupils from other schools who are hoping to join our Sixth Form in September. Whilst nothing new, what did surprise is me is the large number who have entered early for GSCE, completing GCSEs in core subjects such as Maths and the Sciences in Year 10 and even Year 9. This concerns me greatly and is the topic of this blog.
In recent years growing numbers have sat GCSE examinations early and some schools have even used this strategy as part of their marketing. They claim to be able to get pupils through early and are (were) able to rely on re-sits should things not go according to plan. I fundamentally disagree that this is a good news story.
Education is about fostering a life-long passion for learning and building critical thinking skills, and not only do pupils end up with (time) gaps in their learning, e.g. not studying Maths in Year 11, the fun and exploration disappear from the experience as pupils race towards the next exam. Teaching becomes focused on passing public examinations and this is very sad for both teachers and pupils.
I suspect pupils are getting lower grades than their Key Stage 2 results suggest and are even banking these grades when they should be aiming higher and re-sitting them. Now that GCSEs have become linear (again) there is even more at stake as pupils can’t re-sit and may have to live with mediocre results. I suspect that league table preoccupation has meant that some schools have allowed or even encouraged pupils to settle for grades below their true potential. As long as pupils have secured at least C grades in early entry, they have banked them and moved on to the next GCSE, which is something else that concerns me, i.e. pushing pupils to do GCSEs early so that they can do even more of them! Pupils who are capable of 10 A*-As are, in some case, getting up to 14 passes at lower grades. Universities are looking for quality, not quantity, and a demonstrable passion for the subject. Sadly for some pupils, poor advice has irrevocable university and career limiting consequences. Less is often more and academically self confident schools enter pupils for fewer assessments.
Returning to my original topic, pupils entering subjects early may be receiving less tuition in core subjects and this combined with the exam driven focus may deter them from pursuing these subjects at A Level and beyond.
Acceleration, or rather extension, can sometimes be justified. If pupils are very able and it is part of a strategy of planned progression to A Level then I understand the decision, but I suspect that league table pressure and the (former) re-sit culture may be the driving force is in some cases. I have personally interviewed very bright and articulate pupils who have banked C and B grades in Mathematics and the Sciences and they have discussed their passion for these subjects at A Level and beyond. Whilst far from impossible, I suspect that sitting these GCSEs at the end of Year 11 would have put them in a much stronger position. Pupils should only enter early if schools are confident they will get the highest achievable grade.
Learning should be enjoyable and it is our duty to do the very best to make sure that every pupil fulfils his or her potential. Racing through too many exam courses, exam driven teaching and the banking of below par results is not, in my opinion, the way forward.