Back To Basics

The current form of the secondary school league tables for England will no longer be used in the future. Beginning next year, secondary schools’ headline figures must now include both English and maths. The move shows the government’s concern that schools have been choosing to focus on exams that give better chances of a high GCSE grade. Ministers will release every school’s English and maths results at the GCSE level earlier than planned but too late to be included in the full tables. Although the government believes that league tables’ reform retains credibility in many parents’ eyes, some parts of the British Isles lose it.

Professor Alan Smithers, who heads the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, said, "It looks as though schools are increasingly juggling with pupils’ entries to maximize their score in the league tables." The issue has been on the GNVQ exams’ use, which are viewed as being equivalent to four GCSEs. Nearly 60,000 sixteen-year-olds took the GNVQ exam last year. Currently, students who take this exam only need to get another C grade at their GCSE’s.

Thomas Telford in Shropshire is the most successful comprehensive school with a 100% success rate that it has retained for six years. Its principal, Sir Kevin Satchwell, admits that GNVQ ICT has been a big factor in the school’s success, but it also claims a 98% pass rate in maths and English this year. The school has marketed a course based on the GNVQ ICT examination and has sold over 1,000 models to other secondary schools, with one million students now using its e-learning content.

The Montgomery High School in Kent performed poorly in 2004, receiving the worst rating in England. This year, the school’s score rose to 26%, but it remains below average. Montgomery now does the GNVQ exam, but Kerry-Jane Harding, the headteacher, assures that art and geography accounted for most of the increase and not the GNVQ. While Harding admits that their results for English, maths, and science are still "very weak," the school’s resurgence cannot be credited to one single exam.

Moor End Technology College in Huddersfield was one of the pioneering educational institutions to test the newly introduced Dida exam. Greg Gilbert, head of ICT at Moor End Technology College, has issued a warning that the students who could manage to get through the GNVQ curriculum will have a hard time dealing with the Dida course.

Compared to the GNVQ, Gilbert believes the Dida exam poses more of a challenge, insisting that it would be tough to achieve comparable results to those attained previously. Unlike the GNVQ, where students need to conduct thorough research on particular subjects, Dida modules are harder and students have to complete four Dida units to receive four full A-Cs.

Gilbert is a fan of Dida, indicating that the new course offers a better educational experience for students. He highlights an online project element in which students are asked to prepare, research and present their findings on contemporary issues chosen by the examination board.

It is a challenging, difficult project for students that form a mandatory part of the course. The project runs for only twelve months, and students who fail to finish their task within that timeframe will fail the entire Dida exam. Contrastingly, in the GNVQ course, participants might have been given a period of between three and four years to finish all their required unit work.

Despite rumors circulating that schools adopted GNVQ only to boost their league table position rankings, Gilbert denied this.

The GNVQ could have been a less demanding exam than Dida, according to Carol Griffith. She said that if schools wanted to continue benefitting from league-table benefits, it made sense to stick with GNVQ for as long as possible. But the opposite appears to be accurate, according to Edexcel, with more than 1,400 schools entirely transitioning to Dida coursework last September.

As the GNVQ is gradually phased out, the effect it would have on GCSE headline scores is indisputable. It is estimated that the move to incorporate core subjects for next year’s five A*-C figure could reduce the typical school score by up to 10%, sparking further controversy over schools’ educational standards.


  • baileywilliams

    Bailey Williams is an educational blogger and school teacher who uses her blog as a way to share her insights and knowledge with her readers. She has been teaching for over 10 years and has a deep understanding of the school system and how to help students reach their goals. Her blog is packed full of helpful information and resources, so be sure to check it out if you're looking for help with your schoolwork!