WEEK 20 - Friday 11 February 2022
Over the past two years, when exams have not taken place, teachers and Heads of Department at Hessle High School and Sixth Form College worked diligently and honestly to provide every student with a Teacher Assessed Grade (TAG) instead. This work was done with integrity and we resisted any attempt to ‘game’ the system by inflating the number of students that achieved higher grades or that they did not deserve. We also ensured that a full range of evidence was used so that students who had missed lots of time or suffered genuine hardship during Covid lockdowns still had the opportunity to show what they could do. Consequently, we never had a single appeal from a student or parent and all of our grades were approved by each exam board both at GCSE and A Level. That was remarkable, and a testament to the honest work our staff did, with the support of students and parents.
So it was bitterly disappointing to hear this week that some private schools across England had seen TAGs as an opportunity to vastly over-award students. The rise in the proportion of top grades awarded in private schools was significantly higher than in the state sector. In one school, the % of A* Grades awarded went from 6.5% to 54% and, in another, 90% of grades were A*s, compared to 33% in 2019. Across the private school sector, the proportion of A* grades rose from 16% in 2019 (the last year exams were held) to 40% in 2021.
The topic of ‘grade inflation’ is not new and, every summer, some of the press use results day as an opportunity to denigrate student achievement and to bash teachers by questioning why results have reached another record high. But what has happened in some of these private schools is not ‘grade inflation’, it is much less ethical than that and the real victims are the students whose schools did not engage in this kind of practice, but who achieved grades that were fair and just. They will have found themselves competing with private school students for places at university and, ultimately, for employment.
The response of the Education Secretary, Nadim Zahawi, was also disappointing; “They (the schools) reassured me that ….. the children who were expected to get high grades, A-grades, actually achieved those.” Maybe if you are prepared to accept that a party is a work event, then you would believe that line of argument but most people can see it for what it is; yet more recycling of privilege and getting away with it. Remember also that private schools, which already enjoy significant advantages through their selection process and charitable status, continue to resist (in many cases) demands to work with the state sector by involving themselves with the Academisation process.
Despite that, I know where I would rather work. Leading a state school, with all of its challenges, is the most rewarding time of my life and working with colleagues that display honesty and integrity every single day, is a privilege - of the right kind.
We believe that the young people of today need a strong moral code - where hard work is rewarded. Our 2020 and 2021 students deserved the grades that they got and they can feel rightly proud of them. This teaches them an important lesson about sacrifice, hard work and reward and they will be better equipped in the long run to succeed than their peers in the private sector, who essentially have been let down by their schools in too many cases.
One of the ways in which we aim to strengthen the moral code of our students is through working in the community and this is an area I am keen to work more closely with. We already have a very strong relationship with Hessle All Saints Church and recently the Reverend Gemma Turner paid us a visit, along with Lucy, who is a trainee vicar (who even knew there was such a thing?). Both ladies are refreshingly engaging about their work and how they want to connect and support the young people of our area. We already use the church for our Christmas concert and we are looking at ways to extend that relationship further. In the meantime, our students have other opportunities to spend time in the fantastic church buildings by attending some of their youth group sessions. These are Christian groups which also offer lots of chances for youngsters to meet new people and to learn new hobbies and interests. More information can be found here - flyer 1 flyer 2 - meeting topics
As I stated in my letter earlier in the week, we will be relaxing the expectation that students wear face coverings in classrooms from Monday. We ask that students still bring a mask however to wear in communal areas. Hopefully, after half term, we will be able to consign face coverings to the dustbin of history once and for all. We can but hope.
Take care and have a lovely weekend.