Students praised on A-level results day

Headteachers at schools across the county have thanked students for their efforts as they move on to a range of careers and study opportunities following their A-level results.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 13th August 2020, 6:37 pm
Updated Friday, 21st August 2020, 2:54 pm
The King Edward VI School site.
The King Edward VI School site.

As exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools and centres were asked to make their best assessment, using a broad range of evidence from across their full programme of study, of what grade the pupil would be most likely to receive and to place candidates in rank order.

The purpose of this ranking was to allow adjustments to take place so the distribution of grades at a national level by exam boards was similar to previous years.

However, following a change by the Government on Monday, the grades will be those estimated by their teachers rather than by an algorithm.

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At King Edward VI School in Morpeth, staff described the set of results as ‘excellent’ – they were very much in line with the school’s figures for 2019.

Almost three-quarters of students are now moving into higher education at university, including many Russell Group institutions. Many others have secured quality apprenticeships and employment during this economically challenging time.

Headteacher Clare Savage said: “This year in particular, we are also celebrating the resilience and fortitude of so many of our students in these unprecedented times.

“As a school community, we are proud of their efforts and achievements. However, at this time we also want to celebrate the students that walked out of school in March and straight into roles as key workers in supermarkets, care homes and Covid-19 test centres.

“We want to congratulate the students that have worked their way through university reading lists and online materials – for fun.

“We want to thank those students who isolated alongside shielding family members to keep them safe.

“So many King Edward's students have demonstrated their true worth in the last few months, a worth that cannot be measured but should be celebrated.

“Congratulations to all King Edward's leavers 2020. We wish all of our students every success in their future endeavours.”

Head of Sixth Form Leanne Johnston added: “This was a results process that has never been attempted before and was forced by circumstances that nobody could possibly have foreseen.

“Staff have worked diligently to provide grades for students and to place them in rank order as fairly and accurately as possible.

“Although these grades are awarded using a different method, they fully reflect the hard work of our students throughout their time at King Edward’s.

“We would like to thank staff and parents who have supported our students throughout their time here.”

The overall picture this year at Ponteland High School is in line with previous years, with 25 per cent of all grades awarded A*-A or equivalent; 50 per cent A*-B and 70 per cent A*-C.

However, staff felt the national standardisation process, before the change was made, failed to take account of the strengths of the year group.

Speaking before the change on Monday, headteacher Kieran McGrane said: “Our Year 13 cohort have been fantastic ambassadors during their time with us and have added greatly to our school community and culture.

“In putting together Centre Assessment Grades (CAGs) and rank orders, staff were well aware of how well we expected this year group to perform and this was reflected in the data that was submitted to the various exam boards.

“Our experience has been that where individual subjects have had small cohorts, there has been little or no change to the CAGs submitted by the school, whereas subjects with more than six students have experienced changes, often significant changes.

“In larger subject cohorts, we are left with the feeling that CAGs were simply ignored – with final grades being awarded based on a statistical model that considered the rank order and not the CAGs.

"The late decision to include mock exam grades within the appeal system is bizarre, but will be welcomed by a number of our students as approximately 55 per cent of them will presumably see an increase in at least one subject grade.

“The concern about using mock exams is that they are conducted in very different ways across schools.

“For example, some schools have two to three mock exams in Year 13, some have open book mock exams, some have external invigilators, some don’t, some have strict exam conditions, some don’t.

“To suggest that these grades are somehow more relevant than the CAGs that have been submitted is an affront to schools.

“We know that many of our Year 13 students will be celebrating, deservedly so, but these celebrations will also be tempered by concern for their fellow students who may have to deal with some initial disappointment.

“We know that they will all overcome any obstacles in their path and go on to achieve great things. We wish them well in their future careers and lives.”

Speaking after the change, he said: “This whole episode has been poorly handled and it is now obvious that those in charge were all too aware of the large scale downgrading that the statistical standardisation model had arrived at.

“Schools with very small Sixth Form numbers benefited as their Centre Assessment Grades (CAGs) were accepted without question whereas schools with larger Sixth Form cohorts such as ours were penalised as CAGs were completely ignored in favour of using the rank order combined with an algorithm.

“This same algorithm did not account for individual prior attainment, which meant that it was a blunt tool.

“As a result of these decisions, a number of our students experienced a very disappointing day – first with their results and secondly with failing to secure their firm university choices. All of this could and should have been avoided.

“As a trustee of Schools North East, it has been great to see the way the organisation has lobbied for justice along with the voices of individual headteachers and thousands of students across the country.

“The Government decision to finally agree to use CAGs was very welcome as our students will now receive grades that reflect their ability and enable them to take their next steps.

“My remaining concern relates to the fact that the problem has now shifted, without much notice, to universities as many students will now wish to revisit their initial firm offers, but their courses may be full.

“I hope that the universities can provide additional capacity for this year to honour as many offers as possible – we need to see deferral for a year as an option, but not the default position.”