‘Our children are so much more than grades’

This year’s GCSE results tell us that 36 per cent of 16-year olds failed to secure a standard pass (Grade 4) in English and maths combined. These students were awarded grades 1, 2 and 3 (the unfortunately dubbed “123ers”) with disadvantaged youngsters disproportionately represented among them. Roy Blatchford, commission chair at the Association of School and College Leaders writes in Tes.

We thus have a schooling system which, after 12 years of compulsory education, awards around 190,000 young people a qualification at age 16 which is not recognised as educationally and socially worthwhile. A basic passport to further education and employment has been denied. Where is the common dignity here? And what does this perceived failure do for individual self-worth?

I recently interviewed a small group of these students, who are now dutifully resitting English GCSE (statistically, two-thirds will fail again). Their words should haunt us, and I saw the expressions on their faces as they spoke.

“I am a better person than these grades show.”

“This grade makes it look as though I can’t read or write.”  

“If you fail these, you are nothing.”

“I feel as though I am trapped in the English and maths waiting room.”

What these and many of their peers say every year has led ASCL to set up a commission of inquiry into what we are calling “the forgotten third”. The commission will focus on the learning and teaching of English, from early years to age 18, in the context of the current assessment system.

We aim to gather evidence over the coming months and report next summer. Without pre-judging, where is the evidence likely to take us? At our first meeting, the following questions emerged as worthy of detailed study, in essence about content and assessment:

  • What can be done differently with parents and carers to ensure that children entering school have a better command of language?
  • Is language learning through primary and secondary a smooth gradient or is it interrupted by the structure of key stages?
  • Should we examine at age 16 when much of the rest of the world does so at 18, following a series of different “pathways”?

Read more about the inquiry ‘Our children are so much more than grades’

What needs to be done to help ‘the forgotton third’? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Exams, Learning, Mental Health, Secondary and Teaching.


  1. Anonymous

    Maybe teachers need to up their game then. Teachers should be ashamed that so many 16 year olds do so poorly in Maths and English. And if it’s not the teaching, start calling out the ‘disadvantage’ for what it is; no discipline, family breakdown, too much TV/technology, no morals and too much political correctness in school.

    What these teachers are saying is, let’s make the exams even easier so that children feel as though they have passed.

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