West Suffolk: GCSE joy tempered by concern at drop in English results

HUNDREDS of students across West Suffolk are celebrating after collecting their GCSE results this morning.

But headteachers have also expressed concern about a dramatic fall in English results, with some questionning the Government’s marking policy.

At St Benedict’s Catholic School, students and staff were left dismayed after the percentage of students achieving five or more A*-C grades fell from 90% in 2011 to 76% this year.

Even more dramatically, the percentage of students achieving 5A*-C grades including English and maths dropped to an unprecedented 56%, compared with 81% in 2011.

The previous lowest figures achieved by the school since 2005, were 77% for 5 A*-C grades, and 66% for 5A*-C grades including English and maths.

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Interestingly, teachers said the average points per student figure remains very high, at 470 points- almost exactly the same as last year’s record-breaking year.

This however is largely accounted for by the high number of students taking 3 science GCSEs instead of 2, and 2 maths GCSEs instead of 1.

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Despite the overall fall in results, there were some Individually outstanding performances.

Achieving 10 or more A*s and As were: Lydia Bridge, Kyle Burns, Poppy Carr, Arianne Dyball, Elizabeth Ellis, Thomas Longbottom, Behn Mapus-Smith, Sam Martin, Alice Neal, Michael Nicholls, Victoria Root, Fenella Snudden, Eleanor Walker, Ellyn Ward and Harriet Wilson.

Headteacher Hugh O’Neill said, “Last year, St Benedict’s School achieved its best ever set of GCSE results. This year, we have the lowest since the current 5A*-C pass measure was introduced in 2005. We have heard the government make pronouncements about making exams tougher. They have surely gone further than they intended. We have 25% fewer students achieving the threshold measure. There has been a particularly devastating effect on English results, which have fallen from 90% in 2011 to 63% this year.

“While it is possible that our teaching may have varied a little, and groups of students are different from year to year, these extraordinary shifts in results can only be explained by a massive change in exam marking policy.

“I am very upset about this, because there are more than 30 students who will know that, had they sat their GCSEs last year, they would have received a very different set of results.

“The impact on results appears to be across the board- fewer students achieving A* grades at the top end, and crucially, many getting grade D instead of C. In the circumstances, the fact that 15 students (over 10% of the year group) achieved 10 or more A* and A grade passes is an even more remarkable success.

We will be challenging these results, because it seems to us that a year group of students has been given a very raw deal.

“Many will be rethinking their plans, having failed to get the grades they needed. It all seems very unfair.”

At King Edward VI School saw a drop of 10% in English results.

Headteacher Geoff Barton said: “We are delighted that 75% of our 345 students have gained C or higher at GCSE, including some spectacular top grade performance. But there are concerns about GCSE English marking.”

Those getting 5A*-C was 73%, while the number getting 5 or more A/A* was 33%. A total of 52% got 5A*-C including English and maths.

Mr Barton said: “Last week we celebrating some of the best A-level results in Suffolk. How can the same team teaching similar students at GCSE see a drop of more than 10% in English results and almost 20% below our predictions? Why are so many schools across Suffolk and other counties reporting the same trend?

“We are demanding an investigation by exam boards because it is students who are affected by this. A student who would have gained a grade C last year or in the January exam may have gained a D this summer. How can that be fair?

“Parents, governors and teachers will want to ask serious questions about any changes to the marking of English exams. Having taught GCSE English myself this year as part of our English team, I can only think that there’s been some change to grade boundaries, and if that is penalizing students and their teachers after all these years of hard work it seems immensely unfair.”

At Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill 70% of pupils achieved 5A*-C grades with English and maths.

Individual successes include Bartie Shirm, (eight A*s and two As), Charlotte Williams, (seven A*s and three As), Linda Sowa, (five A*s and three As), Cameron Floyd, (one A*, six As and two Bs), Charlotte Kowalski, (one A*, six As and a B), and James Boulton, (one A*, five As and two Bs).

Vice principal Andy Prestoe said: “These are the best GCSE results that the academy has ever had.

“We are incredibly proud of the achievement of our pupils and the fact that so many did well in other academic subjects like history, languages and science in addition to English and maths is a real plus for their future employment and college prospects. I am delighted for the pupils, their very supportive parents and the staff.”

Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill has not yet published the percentage of students obtaining five or more A*-C grades including English and maths as the school wants to confirm the English results.

But 91% of students have achieved five or more A*-C grades.

One results success story was Victoria Abery with 12 A*-C grades including one A* and six As.

Principal Madeleine Vigar said: “This is an important day for these young people and represents a key step in their journey through education.

“We are really proud of the hard work that students and staff have put into these results and hope to see many of the students next year in our sixth form.”

Mildenhall College is also unable to confirm the percentage of students who achieved five or more A*-C grades including English and maths as the school is investigating the English results.

Notable successes include John Cheshire with three A*s, five As and two Bs and Daniel Cusack with four A*s, three As and four Bs.

Headteacher Susan Byles said: “The success of our students is testimony to the tremendous hard work and effort they have put in. Many have attended extra revision sessions at lunchtime, after school and even during holidays to make sure that they achieved the best results possible. The students have been supported at every stage by dedicated and hard working teachers.

“At this point in time we are unable to confirm the figure for the percentage of students achieving five A* to C grades including English and maths. Across the country there appears to have been a decline in the percentage of students passing English at grades A*-C. We are investigating our own results and will appeal to the exam board if we feel any of the students have been unfairly graded.”

Matthew Parker, headteacher at Stoke College said six papers would be returned to markers after the number of students achieving five or more A*-C grades including English and maths dropped from 84% to 64%. A total of 88% of pupils achieved five grades at A*-C.

Mr Parker said: “I think all the schools are looking at the English results. I think the exam board has come under pressure anf the Government told them to be harder on certain subjects.”

However, County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds, was celebrating there best-ever results with the percentage of students gaining five A*-C, including English and maths hitting 74%. All of the students gained at least five grades inlcuding the core subjects.

At the top end, 15% of the year gained at least 8A*/A grades. Top performing students include Aidan Campbell with 11 A*s and Zoe Parsons with 10A*s.

Headteacher Vicky Neale said: “These are another superb set of results which prepare all the students well for the next phase of their lives. The whole staff worked incredibly hard to achieve these grades and I would particularly pay tribute to them today.”

Thurston Community College saw their best results in 11 years in terms of the number of students achieving A*-C but also saw the number of students attaining five A*-C slip to 58% - lower than last year.

Paul Potter, vice principal said: “Questions are being asked about results in English and other subjects such maths and psychology. It has dented our confidence a bit, but we are suppporting every individual student to make sure they get the opportunities they deserve.”

He added that the fact that 73% of students achieved A*-C marked the college’s “gradual improvement.”

Joint deputy head of Culford School Joss Williams said they were celebrating “another excellent set of GCSE results” with 40% of all grades at A* or A grade. All 69 pupils got at least five GCSEs at A* - C grades with 25% of pupils achieving at least 8 A* or A grades.

The number of students achieving five or more A*-C including maths and English has not been disclosed.

Mr Williams said: “We are really pleased with these results and I am delighted that all of our students achieved 5 A* to C grades this year. It is wonderful that the pupils’ and teachers’ hard work, year on year, means that so many of our pupils are achieving suites of A* and A grades. We have stretched and challenged all of our pupils so that they have achieved their potential. Our best students are achieving remarkable things: 11 A* grades for example.”

Dr Bob Cadwalladr, principal of Newmarket College said he was “distraught and angry” after only 27% of students achieved five A*-C grades. The college had been predicting about 50%.

“I’m shocked and distraught at this. When you look at the group and the students involved, they were good, hard-working, well-motivated and well-taught kids.

“The piece of paper they picked up this morning devalues them and the hard work they have done. I feel very cross and very angry that these young people have become pawns in a political game.

“To make the decision that grade boundaries will go up by 10 marks in the corridors of power and discover about it yesterday morning that’s gerry mandering. It is immoral.”

Dr Cadwalladr said many of his students on the borderline between C and D had been particularly badly affected.

At Sudbury Upper School and Arts College 34% of students obtained five A* to C grades including English and maths.

Those who performed tremendously well include Megan Benson with nine A*s and four As, Helen Legg with six A*s and six As and Matt Gill with six A*s and six As (already having achieved grade A in A-level maths last week).

Deputy headteacher Sally Scott said: “We are delighted that one in five of this year’s Year 11 students at Sudbury Upper School and Arts College have achieved the highest grade possible, an A*, in at least one of their subjects in this year’s GCSE results and many have exceeded our expectations.

“This will enable our students to follow their chosen route at post-16, with the majority looking forward to joining the sixth form at the new academy.”

Sudbury Upper School and Arts College will be known as the Ormiston Sudbury Academy from next term.

At Great Cornard Upper School the results showed a “very pleasing” rise in standards.

55% of students achieved five A*-C grades including English and maths, which is a significant rise on previous years.

More than 30 students obtained more than five passes at the highest grades, A* or A.

Particularly successful students include Sadie Belsey with 10 A*s, Melody Gould with nine A*s and one A and Matthew Stephens-Rowe with eight A*s and two As.

Headteacher Wayne Lloyd said the English results were lower than expected, but they were still an improvement on the previous year.

He said: “We are pleased that these grades show the progress our school is making. We are particularly encouraged by the performance of our highest attaining students whose performance compares favourably with any grammar school or private school.

“The success of the students is a reflection of their hard work, the support of their families and the dedication of the teachers and other staff in school.

“As we become the Thomas Gainsborough School from September we will continue to work hard to raise standards and ensure that all our students achieve the highest possible standards.”

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