GCSE results published last week show the effects of government changes in results coming into play, as explained below, which have hit many of Kent’s non-selective schools disproportionately. The effect on many private schools offering the IGSE instead of GCSE is to see their results discounted completely, so there is no sensible measure of performance in the private sector. You will find government league tables here.
Overall Kent state school students have once again exceeded the national average as they have for many years with 58.0% succeeding at 5 A-C grades, including English and maths, against a national figure of 56.6%. Medway students have done even better, with 58.8% of students having achieved the standard, as always underlining the disparity with Medway primary school performance.
The top of the table is not surprisingly dominated by the grammar schools, although Skinners is the only one to emerge with 100% success at 5 A-C grades, including English and maths. At 99% come most of the usual suspects: Dartford Grammar Girls; Dover Grammar Girls; Folkestone Girls; Invicta Grammar; Judd; Maidstone Grammar Girls; and Weald of Kent Grammar; along with The Rochester Grammar and Sir Joseph Williamson’s in Medway. Lowest performing grammars are: Simon Langton Boys and Tunbridge Wells Boys at 93%, along with Chatham Grammar Boys in Medway; Sir Roger Manwood’s at 92%; Borden Grammar 91%; Dane Court at 90%; and Dover Grammar Boys at 85%.
For non-selective schools, top performers as always are Bennett Memorial (CofE), 78% and St Gregory’s Catholic, 72%, both Tunbridge Wells. Then come: St George’s Cof E, Gravesend and St Simon Stock Catholic 67%, closely followed by St John’s Catholic, Gravesend on 64%. The highest performing non-church schools are: Hillview, Tonbridge, 62%; and Wrotham 59%.
At the bottom end, the effect of the government changes can be seen to full effect as many non-selective schools have seen the strategies they used to promote their academic performance discounted. Wholly unsurprisingly, they are headed up by The Marlowe Academy, eighth lowest performing state school in the country at 13%. Others are: Hartsdown Academy and Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy at 19%; Pent Valley Technology College at 21%; St George’s CofE Foundation, Thanet, and Sittingbourne Community College on 22%. Every one of these has seen a sharp fall in performance since 2013, ranging from a 15% drop at Marlowe, through to 32% at Hartsdown. Lowest Medway performance is better, with Strood Academy on 28% (a 15% fall on 2013).
There is considerably more detail below, including a closer look at Thanet which has attracted media attention over the disappointing results of many of its schools........
The decision to count only the first result achieved in a subject, ignore repeats and remove some subjects has affected schools both at the high and low ends of league tables. The decision not to include some subjects, hit many schools in the private sector who took IGCSE which is now discounted, in favour of GCSE, so that it is now impossible to assess them. Many vocational subjects have also been removed, or downgraded. Some subjects with overlapping syllabuses, such as art and photography, along with some BTEC combinations, are now counted just once, although the decision was made after the current batch of students had already started their GCSE courses. These changes have hit some Kent non-selective schools especially hard, as they sought ever more creative ways to achieve the government 40% floor target. No doubt, subject guidance in schools has already changed to take account of these factors for the benefit of schools rather than students.
The national government floor target is 40%, but Kent’s selective system invalidates this for both selective and non-selective schools, by taking some 28% of the cohort, all of whom should have achived the standard, out of the non-selectives and placing them into academies.
My rule of thumb for grammar school performance has for years been an expectation that any grammar school should average 98% success at this level, allowing for illness, the odd child off the rails etc. In a bad year, it might drop to 96% when too many of these issues have arisen simultaneously. Just 23 of Kent’s 33 grammar schools have reached this standard. So no grammar school should ever fall as low as 94% ever. Three Kent grammar schools have shockingly failed at this standard for each of the last two years: Simon Langton Boys, Canterbury; Borden, Sittingbourne; and Dover Grammar Boys.
Non-selective schools see nearly all their potentially higher performing students taken away to grammar schools so, out of a group of 100 students some 28 go off to grammar school, all part of the 58% success rate. This leaves on average around 30 for the non-selective school, now reduced to 72 students. We can therefore expect for the AVERAGE Kent non-selective school, 42% of their students achieving the required standard, whereas government regards any school with below 40% as failing, a wholly unrealistic target in some areas with lower socio-economic profiles.
Coupled with the government changes, designed to force children on to more academic courses, this has seen sharp falls in performance at some non-selective schools that have traditionally done well by their students, although others have still managed to improve performance, notably: St George’s in Gravesend, up 8% since 2013 and 14% since 2012: King Ethelbert’s in Thanet, up 25% in two years to 55%; Thamesview up 15% to 54%; and St Edmund’s Catholic, up 14% to 51%. In total, 40 of the 66 Kent non-selective schools achieved the 40% target, 38 the 42% average, although 48 declined in performance against just 15 that improved.
It is being argued in some quarters that Thanet's non-selective schools are underperforming as a group and certainly there can be little disagreement that The Marlowe Academy falls into this category, with the 8th worst GCSE performance in the country. See previous articles. However, in an area serving some of the most disadvantaged socio-economic groups in Kent, the non-selective schools have worked hard to provide their students with appropriate courses, often vocational to give them adequate preparation for their future lives. The changes in regulations, in some cases mid-course, have taken away some of these options and attempted to force students onto more 'academic' courses they may not be suited for, hence the sharp decline in performance for 2014. Three other schools stand out. Hartsdown, because it is the only school other than Marlowe with vacancies, tends to receive most of the incomers to Thanet, often Children in Care placed from London Boroughs, or else children for whom English is not their first language, often arriving part way through the course. With a quarter of its students on SEN Statements or School Action Plus, a quarter not having English as first language, and 60% having had Free School Meals sometime in the past six years, this is a school that desperately needs support for its disadvantaged children, not condemnation. In spite of this 63% of its students make expected progress in English, nearly twice as many as St George's Foundation School, at 33%. St George's is the real puzzle, a school with a much higher socio-economic profile than the other Thanet schools through its church priority in admissions, making it the third most oversubscribed non-selective school in Kent. This is borne out by the negligible numbers with SEN and English as a second language, and yet just 22% five A-Cs, a massive drop from 53%! It could be argued that in terms of its population this is the worst performing school in Thanet, indeed the worst performing school in Kent. The third of these schools is Charles Dickens, controversially placed in Special Measures in September primarily because of its 35% 5 A-Cs, which certainly doesn't look so bad in comparison now! Others can surely expect early inspections, being identified as at risk, with St George's surely especially worried its most recent 'Good' Inspection being nearly four years old.