Bury St Edmunds: Headteacher urges politicians to stop tinkering with A-levels as students plan next move
12:13 15 August 2014
As students spent the day digesting their final school results, a senior west Suffolk headteacher has warned politicians to “stop tinkering” with A-levels.
Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury St Edmunds made the comments following an apparent fall in the national pass-rate for the first time in more than 30 years.
Although some schools saw in west Suffolk saw marked improvements in their A* to C results, others saw their results drop significantly on 2013.
But Mr Barton said people should be cautious comparing this year’s results with last year following changes to the way A-levels are assessed.
He added: “I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that Ofqual issued a warning last week saying that all of us should not be comparing this year with last year because the way students are being assessed this year is different.
“They said we should expect that there will be some variation.
“You can understand what everyone does. The Government spends money on schools and people want to see if the schools are getting better.
“Of course, one way is looking at performance tables. If actual exams stay exactly the same from one year to the next, it would make it easier to make comparisons, but we know the exams have changed and will continue to change.
“We should therefore be a bit cautious, particularly at this stage and we should celebrate the fact that in Suffolk and beyond so many schools and students are doing so well.”
Mr Barton said: “I think parents and students put huge trust in A-levels and our politicians will be well-advised to leave them alone and stop tinkering with them as they have tended to.
“One of the reasons that people don’t trust performance tables is that they think politicians meddle too much with exam qualifications.
“So there might be a bit of lesson here for everyone to let teachers get on with teaching and students being students and for politicians to go and find something else to do for a while.”
Mr Barton said that students who sat the exams this year would have expected to take modular exams when they began their A-level courses.
“In January each year they would have a separate exam – that’s what they were told they were going to do and that’s what their teachers prepared them for. Then halfway through Michael Gove said this isn’t going to happen.
“That’s a very good example of tinkering where teachers have planned one thing, students have expected another and then everybody has had to change their approach because of a decision by someone in a Whitehall bunker.”
Concern about exam results in Suffolk have led to the introduction of the Raising the Bar initiative.
Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, said: “Early indications are that in the majority of schools, between 70% and 80% of exam results were A*-C grades.
“This is testament to the hard work put in by students, their teachers and parents and I’d like to pay tribute to that.
“We will continue to work with, and challenge, schools to drive up educational attainment. That is the direction we set with our Raising the Bar movement and is now what education professionals across the county are united around.”