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Friday, 24 August 2018 23:17

GCSE Results and Admission to Sixth Forms

GCSE results out yesterday have provided considerable speculation as to the effect of the changes. What follows is a very personal view, parts of which were shared in an interview on ITV Meridian last evening. I conclude with a brief consideration of applications to school Sixth Form courses, also looking at certain illegal practices, amazingly including further malpractice at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls.

It is my opinion, shared  by many others, that GCSE students are the victims of yet another of a series of pointless changes. These appear to me to have no virtue whatever, as explained below. However, whatever has been thrown at them, my congratulations go out to those that have achieved their aims at GCSE and my commiserations to those who have not.

Sadly, the latest changes are yet another massage of GCSE structure and assessment methods to enable the latest in a line of governments to try and convince us that something is being done to improve standards.

The interview took place, with permission, in the splendid grounds of the thriving and oversubscribed Malling School, much changed from the struggling institution of a few years ago and showing what can be done under strong leadership without academisation.

Malling school 

The core of the GCSE change is to focus on a single written examination at the end of Year Eleven, which is of greater difficulty than in previous years. In order to achieve the slightly higher pass rate this summer at 66.9% of entries at the new Grade 4 or above, of course the pass marks are lowered, making any claim for higher standards a logical nonsense.

The BBC sets out a clear description of the new grade structure here, the 6 pass grades instead of four introducing a false precision. However, more confusing is the splitting of the previous widely understood pass grade C into two, Levels 4 (standard pass) and 5 (strong pass). Not surprisingly, organisations: schools; colleges; training providers; and employers are split as to which of these to take as minimum level.

The so called ‘English Baccalaureate’ gives priority in league tables to pupils taking: English language and literature; maths; at least a double science; history or geography; and a language. This totals seven subjects and as a result there is a decline in subjects not in the lists such as technology, arts subjects, music, and languages. This seeks to take on the prestige of the term ‘Baccalaureate’ which generally refers to qualifications with a wide spread of subjects, especially at Sixth Form Level. However, the English Baccalaureate is actually the converse, forcing many English pupils to make unduly restrictive choices and by squeezing out vocational subjects is making the curriculum less palatable of the less academic pupil.

Sadly, academic opportunities at 16 plus are also shrinking as schools come under pressure to achieve higher A Level performance and so many grammar and non-selective schools are raising their entry requirements in terms of GCSE performance.

In addition, financial pressures are causing schools to cut down on the number of A Level options, or in the case of some non-selective schools scrapping them completely. Three of the four Kent FE Colleges have already abolished all A Level courses, the fourth, the Hadlow Group offering just 14 A Levels at its West Kent site in Tonbridge, although just half of these are mainstream academic subjects.

I could continue in this vein for much longer; but just a few points.

  1. A government requirement is that all young people continue their education up to the age of 18, either full-time in schools and college, or through apprenticeships and other work and training options. Full details here. However, as noted above, opportunities are decreasing and the government's apprenticeship drive is failing to deliver numbers of placements.
  2. The UK has possible the fiercest external examination scheme in Europe at the end of compulsory education at 16+, with many countries focusing their attention on performance at 18+.
  3. For too many schools, the obsession with GCSE league table performance now means that pupils start their GCSE courses at the beginning of Year Nine for what is officially a two year course. This mean pupils have to cut out important aspects of their education, especially when combined with the Baccalaureate.
  4. We won’t know the breakdown of GCSE performance for individual schools until publication of the Provisional Results on 31st October, early individual press releases often presenting a distorted picture.
  5. I don’t normally report on A Level outcomes, as these are so dependent upon the required starting point for A Level courses.
Admission to School Sixth Form Courses
The academic entry criteria for school sixth forms is required to be the same for both internal and external applicants, although the former may be given priority in case of oversubscription. This is often not the case, with external candidates being required to jump through additional hoops. This can severely affect opportunities for students from non-selective schools seeking to transfer to grammar. 
Two years ago, I carried out an extensive survey of transfer opportunities into school Sixth Forms which I believe is still highly relevant today. 

It is very common for admission to Sixth Form courses, especially for grammar schools, to consist of conditional offers based on projected GCSE scores from the current school. It is my opinion that this is an unlawful procedure as it does not follow the School Admissions Code, Section 2.6, page 22. It is certainly not objective as required by the Code.  However, challenging this is fraught with difficulties and any appeal is unlikely to be settled before the end of Term 1, by which time the student will be way behind on the curriculum even if the appeal is upheld.

Closing dates for applications are often set as early as January in Year Eleven, so that students with unexpectedly high or low GCSE scores may have limited if any opportunities to change their planned pathway.


One recent example of illegal manipulation of sixth form offers occurred at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls where I secured an Ombudsman ruling against the school last year. Amazingly, the proposed oversubscription criteria for 2019-20 remain illegal on a variety of fronts, primarily that there are different academic criteria for external and internal applicants, explicitly contrary to the School Admissions Code. Unfortunately, it is now too late to challenge this. The criteria for entrance to the Sixth Form this September are not published and so should be unchanged, following those of the flawed 2017-18 rules. Instead,  there is a wholly inadequate set of rules published on the school website that do not even cover oversubscription criteria.

Whilst MGGS is surely one of the worst culprits in using illegal admission criteria for its sixth form, sadly it is surely not alone.


Last modified on Saturday, 01 February 2020 07:53


  • Comment Link Sunday, 16 December 2018 00:50 posted by Richard

    Hello Peter

    Do you have any information about A-level results across the County, and more specifically in the Canterbury district? I can't see anything obvious on the website anywhere - apols if I've missed it. PETER: No you haven't missed it. I tend not to cover A Level results unless I have spare time, as they are so dependent on admission rules applied by schools to Sixth Form entry. The DfE website at: is probably your best bet, with the above caveat.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 25 August 2018 23:07 posted by Teacher and MGSG parent

    As usual your frank and honest opinions hit the nail on the head. Quite simply politicians are using and abusing our children to score points. Once again you are exposing an important issue with Sixth Forms that is not otherwise in the public domain. As for Maidstone GSG, words would have failed me but such unlawful behaviour appears commonplace and goes unpunished. Keep at it.

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