Headteachers are imploring the government to postpone its plans to count only students’ first grades, rather than their best grades, in school league tables.
The policy change was leaked to the national press last week, coming out of the blue for headteachers and after schools have already planned GCSE entries for later this term and next summer.
The change means that from now on, only a student’s first entry to a GCSE examination will count in school performance tables. It is designed to tackle what the government calls the “significant increase in early entry” over recent years.
This week, both the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) condemned the policy.
The unions have published an “open letter to parents” which blames the government for upheaval to students’ exam preparation.
It reads: “Without any notice and with immediate effect, the government has limited schools’ ability to enter students early for GCSEs – after we had already planned entries for the year.
“It seems that barely a term goes by without another sudden change to GCSE examinations. Worst of all, these changes are often made in the middle of students’ courses of study, making it impossible to plan properly or to focus on learning rather than constant administrative change.
“They changed grade boundaries between exam sittings; they dropped the vital skills of speaking and listening from English mid-course; and now this latest announcement.”
Brian Lightman, ASCL general secretary, added: “Making this change with immediate effect, part way through the school year when some students have already entered for exams, is potentially hugely damaging and shows not only a lack of respect for students’ futures but a lack of understanding of the impact on schools.
“We are calling on the secretary of state to defer this decision, and to issue a proper consultation about how GCSE entry fits into a robust accountability system.”
In terms of the performance tables, the changes will apply initially to EBacc subjects in the tables due to be published in January 2015, before being applied to all subjects in the January 2016 tables.
A statement from the Department for Education said: “For those who have already completed a GCSE, the performance tables will still record their best result from either their previous attempt or from the next time they sit that GCSE.
“Those who have not yet taken a GCSE will have their first GCSE taken after 29 September, 2013, count in performance tables.
“Schools that have already planned for pupils to do early entry either in November or summer 2014 will have to think hard about whether they still think that is right for the pupil.”
Shortly after the leak, the DfE issued figures showing that this summer, 23 per cent of maths entries (170,537) and 10 per cent of English entries (70,134) were from students not yet at the end of key stage 4. Overall, entries from 15-year-olds increased by 39 per cent from 2012 to 2013.
Education secretary Michael Gove said: “The evidence shows that candidates who enter early perform worse overall than those who do not, even after resits are taken into account.”