Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Leaders' letters

It's time to stick with exact measurements

In the July edition of Leader, two principals criticised the five good GCSE passes including English and maths performance indicator, whilst championing the idea of contextual value-added as a true measure of success. The problem with the contextual value added measure is that it fails to take into account the different rigour, demands and status of academic and vocational qualifications. For instance, students can achieve the equivalent of four GCSE grade C passes in a vocational subject of dubious distinction, supplement this by a GCSE grade C in a subject such as media studies and, hey presto, achieve a high contextual value-added score.

However, what is the value of such qualifications in an increasingly competitive jobs and higher education market? If we convince our students that this gives them the passport to a Level 3 course, then we are doing them a disservice. Any careers office will confirm that five good GCSE passes including English and maths are the very least required for access to a credible Level 3 course.

Why, therefore, the opposition to the five good GCSEs including English and maths measure of performance? The reason, I would argue, is that it gives no place for schools to hide and its rigour is based on three variables: the total number of subject passes, a grade C in English and a grade C in maths. Furthermore, don't we all agree that proficiency in the key skills such as English and maths is essential? Don't we all want our students to be literate and numerate? Don't we want an end to the criticism by employers that todays job applicants can't add up or spell? Of course we do!

My plea to the DCSF is that they stick with five good GCSEs including English and maths so that it becomes the acknowledged key performance indicator. Far too often in the last few years, the measure of examination success has changed; five good passes followed by a belief in contextual value added, now followed by five good GCSEs including English and maths.

Furthermore, if a 'high performing' school in 2008 is defined as one achieving 60 per cent, why should a high performing school in 2009 have to achieve 65 per cent? Establish a measure which has status and rigour, then stick with it so that students, staff, parents and employers know and understand the criteria.

David Ainsworth, Head, Trinity CE High School, Manchester

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