A letter from the Headteacher regarding A and AS Level Results 2020
Dear Pupils, Parents and Carers
I am writing to you to offer some reassurance and advice around the release of A and AS results yesterday.
I will try to explain the school’s overall context, which should provide you with some reassurance. I will also try to explain the situation that schools generally find themselves in and offer some explanation of the process that has been applied (as far as I can understand it). Most importantly, I will tell you what we propose to do about pupils who find themselves in a position where we feel they have been unfairly disadvantaged.
Please take the time to read this carefully. It will help you to consider your own positions and circumstances. In particular, try to remember that, whilst the school’s overall performance will be of little comfort to you just now if you are sitting on the end of some bad news, it will nonetheless help us in a very powerful way as a school to be able to argue our case better than many other centres in cases where we see a real injustice.
Overall Results and Trends
Overall, the school has done very well. At A level, for example, as things stand today, we have a 100% pass rate, 88.2% of grades at A*-C, and 65.4% at A*-B. These compare with our Centre Assessed Grades of 100%, 88.9% and 67.7% respectively. These final results are, therefore, very close to what we predicted and are also the school’s best results ever.
You may have read in the media that, in Wales, 42.2% of grades awarded by schools were downgraded. That is a very significant figure. At Olchfa, the picture was better. About 23% of our awarded grades went down, and about 3% went up. We were less harshly treated than the vast majority of other schools in Wales. As a result of all of this, our results are close to what we predicted.
However, this does not give any comfort if you are one of the pupils who has been unfairly treated by the system. Whilst there are less such pupils here than elsewhere, it does not alter the fact that we believe there are some, and for each of those individuals there is individual heartache. That is just plain wrong and unfair and we intend to try to support these pupils in challenging their outcomes. Life is not about figures and statistics; it is about people. And people matter.
This year was never going to be easy. The only thing I will say in defence of exam awarding bodies across the UK is that they had a difficult job to do. In my opinion, however, they could and should have done it better.
Schools were asked to provide Centre Assessed Grades for each candidate in each subject and, more crucially, they were required to provide a rank order of all pupils in each subject. This was not optional. Our entries were not accepted without it.
So, for example, in one of our larger entry subjects, we awarded about 20 A grades. These 20 pupils had to be ranked 1-20, with 1 being the ‘strongest’ A and 20 the ‘weakest’.
The next crucial part of the system is that the WJEC looked at each centre’s results over a three-year cycle to form a statistical opinion of where results were likely to be. This in itself throws up various difficulties. One of the obvious ones (less significant for Olchfa) is that subject entries in some schools are far smaller. The smaller the entry, the greater the likelihood that there can be bigger variations over time. For example, we enter about 80 pupils per year for A2 Mathematics, whereas some centres enter 5 or less. The 80 pupils in 2017, 2018 and 2019 are likely, by the law of averages to be more comparable overall than the 5 pupils in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
There are other problems too. For example, the historical ‘department’ in a school might have changed in those three years. A brilliant new teacher might have arrived, or a rather weaker one. Ironically, the brilliant teacher could be saddled with the historical trends of his or her predecessors and the weak teacher could ride on the coat tails of his or her stronger ones. I could go on here, but you get my drift; the system just wasn’t subtle or sensitive enough to pick up on these important factors. I have to say here, in the profession’s defence, we did try to make these points at various stages but, in the end, were not really listened to.
Come what may, armed with the historical data, some elements of data around each pupil’s prior attainment (such as GCSE results etc.) and the school rank order, the system kicked into action.
In my opinion (and I stress that this is my opinion) too much emphasis has been placed on historical trends and not enough on prior attainment and Centre Assessed Grades. I am embarrassed that I can’t say what the exact weightings were. To put it bluntly, we were never told.
As a result, a significant number of people ‘dropped a grade’ (although far less in Olchfa than elsewhere in Wales). If you go back to my example of the 20 pupils on Grade A, you need to know that not all of the 20 dropped from an A to a B. In that actual example, 16 stayed on an A grade and four dropped to a B. The four who dropped were numbers 17-20 in the rank order.
‘Dropping a grade’ is, therefore, a slightly misleading phrase on one level. The pupils who dropped a grade in reality actually ‘dropped’ from a ‘low’ A to a very ‘high’ B. That’s no consolation, though, either to the pupil or to us as teachers. After all, we gave the pupil an A grade.
What we intend to do
Firstly, we are going to deal with pupils in priority order. Our first priority is Year 13 pupils whose revised grades have resulted in the refusal of a university place. Thankfully, there are not many such cases, but I’m sure you’ll agree that we have to help these pupils first. The second priority is other Year 13 pupils who have got a university place but did not get the results they deserved. The third priority is Year 12 pupils. This is because we have time on our side with Year 12. It will be some months before university application starts in earnest and we hope that things will have progressed substantially by then.
We are not doing anything until the early part of next week at the earliest. This is because the political situation is changing almost by the hour. As little as two days ago, the only appeals possible were those based on ‘maladministration’ (things like the centre entering the wrong grade for a candidate etc.). In other words, clear mistakes. Now, it seems likely from announcements at national level that the grounds for appeal are likely to be far wider. We do not know yet, however, exactly what these grounds will be. We stand a far better chance of supporting a pupil successfully if and when we know what can be appealed. We should have some idea of this by Monday or Tuesday.
Appeals are likely to be able to be individual appeals or, in some cases, group appeals across a whole subject. We have at least one subject that falls into this category where there has been an obvious (to us) injustice. These group appeals are likely to be even more powerful than individual appeals, for obvious reasons.
From today, you can ask for your own personal Centre Assessed Grades. You will need to complete a short Google form which will be sent to your Olchfa school email address. For data protection reasons, the request to release your Centre Assessed Grades must be made by you as a pupil/student. We will begin to process requests in the early part of next week.
These Centre Assessed Grades will show you whether the school awarded you a higher grade than the exam board. If the exam board has lowered your grade, we will probably be able to support you in appealing. If the grade that the school and the exam board have given you is the same, we will not be able to support you at appeal, since we would be going against our own professional judgement.
Importantly though, it’s advisable not to do anything at all until you have spoken to us. We can help you to appeal in the right way and at the right time.
I know that this is an unsettling time for you and I also know that it may seem counter-intuitive to wait, even for a few days. All I would say in this context is to look at what happened in Scotland. There, they accepted all the teacher assessed grades in the end. I am not saying the same will happen in Wales, but what I do know is that there is a huge amount of debate and concern around what has happened and, in the end, politicians will have to decide what is to be done about it. It’s pointless, in my view, trying to second guess that now when it will probably become clear pretty quickly.
I hope you can see from this letter that this whole sorry situation is not of the school’s making at all and that, overall, Olchfa has fared better than most. However, we are where we are and I am clear in my own mind that it is not fair that some pupils have not got the grades that they deserved. As I said at the start, people are people, not just statistics. The results pupils get now will stay with them for the rest of their lives and, in some cases, will have a direct effect on how their lives begin to map out. For that reason, it is vitally important that we try our very best to get this right on their behalf and to help them to argue their case.
Please try to stay as calm as possible over the next few days. I know it’s difficult but I am convinced that a solution will soon become clearer. It will not result in everyone getting what they hope for; life is not that simple. However, it should ensure confidence that the system has been fairer than it appears to have been at the moment.
I hope this letter finds you safe and well and that you continue to remain so.