Reforms to the GCSE grading system in England has created “huge uncertainty” for schools, the NASUWT union says.
The union says the new 9-1 GCSE grades will increase the pressure on pupils and narrow the range of educational opportunities for young people.
The new grading system is being phased in from this summer, starting with maths and English, with grades 9-1 replacing grades A*-G.
The government maintains the changes will drive up standards.
Education Secretary Justine Greening says a grade four will be seen as a “standard pass” and a grade five as a “strong pass”.
But the NASUWT’s annual conference in Manchester heard that the introduction of a new grading system was causing unnecessary confusion, with negative consequences for pupils and teachers.
Paul Daly, a maths teacher at Whitworth Park school in Spennymoor, County Durham, told the BBC pupils would be taking the new maths GCSE imminently, amid confusion about grade boundaries.
“We still haven’t got our head around what the grade boundaries are because no-one will provide us with any.
“So we’re giving them mock exams and then telling them ‘we think that your grade might be a four, or might be a five, or it might be a six, or it could be anything because we don’t know because we haven’t been told anything about grade boundaries.
“All we know is, compared to last year, the marks are very, very low and very few people are scoring very high marks in the exams.”
Mr Daly said students were often anxious and confused, and that low scores like 25% meant “a bit of a counselling session goes on” after mock exams.
“You sit down with the kids and you try to make them feel like actually they’re doing well, they’re working hard and ‘I know that last year you would have got a grade B, you’re that kind of student, you would have got a grade B last year.
“‘This year I think you’re probably going to get a five but I have no clue because I don’t have any grade boundaries, I have nothing to judge it off, so as much as I want to make you feel better, I can’t give you any guarantees.”
Languages teacher Candy Mellor from Marden High School in North Tyneside is preparing for the new GCSEs which will be taken for the first time in her subject next summer.
“I feel very sorry for the Year 10s who have only got two years’ preparation for this new exam that we’re still learning about.
“We are making up examinations that we think that it’s going to be like for our Year 10s to practice – but we just don’t know what it looks like.
“But I can start thinking about my Year 7s, so they’ll get five years’ preparation, whereas the Year 10s have got two where we’re still working it out and confused.
Claire Taylor from Woodlawn Special School, in North Tyneside, says her pupils, who have special needs, will not even be able to access the new exams.
“I’ve got no young person who is able to take the current maths GCSE at present.”
This makes them “feel different” from their peers, she says.
“They’re already struggling, given the fact that they have a learning disability or a physical disability […] and they are now standing out even further from the crowd because they can’t access the same type of curriculum and the same type of opportunities and qualifications as other young people across the education system.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the changes – brought in under Michael Gove when he was education secretary – had been driven by “political imperative”, rather than the needs of young people.
“The government has consistently sought to portray GCSEs as ‘broken’ and ‘dumbed down’ qualifications in order to push through its vision of an elitist, narrowly focused curriculum and qualifications system which risks failing to meet the needs of the majority of young people.
“The changes to exam grading have created huge uncertainty for pupils, teachers, parents and employers which will be difficult for schools to manage.
“Schools already buckling from excessive workload are now facing even more bureaucratic reform and young people, already experiencing rising rates of anxiety and mental ill health, will face even greater pressure to perform.”
A Department for Education spokesman said the new GCSEs would provide “more rigorous content” and the new grading system provided “greater stretch” for the highest performers.
“These changes will help young people to compete with the best in the world and deliver the skills that employers tell us they need.
”Nothing has changed with regard to schools being held to account for the proportion of children achieving a strong pass and we are working with Ofqual to support teachers as we implement the new system.”
The Government has granted applications for 11 new schools to be built in Kent, it has been revealed.
More than 69,000 places will be created in 131 new schools across the country approved by the Department of Education today (April 12).
This is the largest wave of free school approvals for this Parliament, after Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed a one-off payment of £320 million for them in his Budget last month.
nd 11 of these new schools announced today are coming to Kent, including the Medway, Dartford, Folkestone and Canterbury areas.
Five of the schools will be secondary schools, five will be primary schools and one is for all years. One will be a special school and one will be an alternative provision school, for those who cannot attend mainstream schools.
One of the schools coming to Kent is Stone Lodge Academy, a new secondary school for 11 to 19 year-olds in Dartford proposed by Endeavour Multi Academy Trust.
The trust already runs two grammar schools and will use its expertise running selective schools to open a new, non-selective, free school.
Barton Court Academy Trust Free School, proposed by the Ofsted outstanding Barton Court Grammar School, will offer a new non-selective free school providing 1,050 school places for 11 to 19-year-olds in Canterbury.
Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “We need schools that can bring out the best in every single child no matter where they’re growing up, how much their parents earn, or however different their talents are.
“That’s why these new schools are so important – they give us the school places we need for the future, and they also give parents more choices to find a great school place in their area that’s right for their child.”
Since 2015, 124 free schools have opened with a further 373 in the pipeline – including the schools announced today.
This is part of the government’s manifesto commitment of opening 500 more new free schools by September 2020.
As part of its work to open more free schools the government has also created a new body called LocatED.
The organisation is made up of experienced property specialists to help speed up the process of acquiring sites for new schools and help get the best value for the taxpayer.
There are fears it could get even tougher to recruit teachers after a drop in the number of trainees on courses in England.
The latest figures show a 7% drop in acceptances on to teacher training courses for this year.
Head teachers’ leaders said the drop in recruits would deepen the teacher recruitment crisis.
The Department for Education said there were more teachers than ever before in England’s schools.
It said it was investing £1.3bn in recruitment over this Parliament, and had devised schemes to ensure new teachers stayed in their jobs in those areas that have a poor record of retaining teachers.
Because of the high turnover in the profession, schools in England need to recruit about 30,000 new teachers every year to stand still.
The predominant source of these recruits is from the crop of the teacher trainees.
But these new figures show only 26,000 were accepted on to teacher training courses for 2016-2017.
And government targets for teacher recruitment in England have been missed for five consecutive years.
Whereas in Wales, there was an increase of 2% in applicants placed on to courses over the same period.
Malcolm Trobe, acting general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There are severe teacher shortages in schools across the country, particularly in maths and science.
“Schools have to rely upon supply staff and non-specialists to teach many classes.”
He urged the government to address the issue urgently and make teaching a more attractive career option.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said the figures were deeply worrying, but hardly surprising.
She pointed to what she said was the government’s continued failure to address the issues that make teaching less attractive as a profession.
“Excessive teacher workloads continue to drive down retention rates, salaries are falling behind those of other graduate professions and funding cuts are reducing what schools can provide for children,” she said.
“The government must tackle the workload and salary levels for classroom teachers as a key priority, investing in school funding and national pay.”
Professor John Howson, a teacher recruitment expert who runs a free teacher vacancy service for schools, said: “The Ministry of Defence had managed to persuade the Treasury that officers training at Sandhurst could have a salary – it’s about time trainee teachers had a salary too.”
Liberal Democrat education spokesman John Pugh said the recruitment crisis was of the government’s making.
“Half baked schemes to desperately lure people into teaching do not and cannot compensate for the demoralisation of existing staff.
“An unprecedented number of teachers are exiting the profession unable to withstand bureaucratic overload and constant insults to their professionalism from meddling ministers.”
Every school in England will see budget cuts before 2020, even after new funding plans are put into place, research suggests.
The Education Policy Institute analysis looks at the impact of the new national funding formula against the backdrop of financial pressures in schools.
It finds even schools benefiting from the funding shake-up will see their gains wiped out by budget pressures.
The government insists schools funding is at a record £40bn level.
‘Shocking cut could cost us a teacher’
But the EPI estimates that average losses will reach £74,000 for primary schools and £291,000 for secondary schools by 2019-20.
This is because schools are bearing the brunt of unfunded rises in pay, pension and National Insurance contributions, which will account for between 6% and 11% of their budgets by 2019-20.
EPI chairman David Laws said a new funding formula was long overdue.
But he added: “As our analysis shows, however, the government may receive little credit from schools for these reforms – as even the schools benefiting from the new formula have their gains completely wiped out by other funding pressures.”
The report says: “There are unlikely to be any schools in England which will avoid a real terms cut in per pupil funding by 2019-20, even in areas benefiting from the new formula.”
The Conservatives promised, in their 2015 manifesto, a real-terms increase in the schools budget during this Parliament.
The manifesto also said: “Under a future Conservative government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected.
“As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools.”
However, there is no requirement for the funding formula to be debated in the Houses of Parliament – the Secretary of State has the power to push the funding formula through.
Despite widespread concern over funding pressures, there was no extra money earmarked for school revenue budgets in the Budget last week.
Days later Education Secretary Justine Greening was heckled by head teachers at a conference in Birmingham.
The Department for Education maintains the EPI report underlines that the government was right to introduce school funding reforms and said it was consulting on the factors that will make up the formula.
According to a DfE spokeswoman, funding is set to rise over the next two years to £42bn as pupil numbers increase.
She added: “Schools will be funded according to their pupils’ needs, rather than by their postcode, with more than half set to receive a cash boost.
“Of course we recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost effective ways.”
She said a recent report from the National Audit Office recognised that schools should be able to make savings without affecting educational outcomes.
In its assessment of the new formula itself, which was brought in to address historical inequalities between areas in schools funding, the EPI said the plans were unlikely to satisfy many lower funded areas.
The EPI also finds that pupils that live in the least deprived areas will experience the highest relative gains.
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the government deserved credit for committing to a new funding formula because the current system was unfair and needed to be reformed.
‘Go back to the chancellor’
“But the overall pot of money is too small and is not sufficient to meet rising costs,” he said.
“This means a net loss for even those schools which appear to ‘gain’ under the formula.
“As a result, the proposed level of basic funding per pupil in the formula is too low to allow schools to operate.
“Additional funding allocated for deprivation, low prior attainment and other additional factors, will be needed just to lessen the impact of cutbacks, rather than provide extra support, while schools which receive little additional funding will be in dire straits.”
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “Despite the government’s claims to the contrary, the EPI’s report has provided independent evidence to support what the ATL has been saying for months – that schools are facing significant real-terms cuts in per-pupil funding and will need to find £3bn in savings annually by 2020.”
Education ministers needed to go back to the chancellor and secure more funding for schools, she added.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said head teachers were being forced to choose between cutting subjects or cutting the school week.
She added: “Less than two years ago the Tories promised millions of parents that they would protect the money that is spent per pupil on their children’s education. This report shows that it is yet another manifesto promise they are breaking.”
Liberal Democrat education spokesman John Pugh said these proposals made schools scramble for the same pot of money.
“Schools in my own area have already written to me warning that they will have to cut staff numbers in order to avoid untenable budget deficits.”
Schools in England are to receive a cash boost to help improve facilities for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
The £215m capital funding has to be spent on increasing school capacity and boosting access for these pupils to good schools.
It may be spent on specialised classrooms and facilities, but not on general day-to-day school budgets.
The news comes as many schools complain of general funding shortfalls.
Minister for vulnerable children and families, Edward Timpson, said the government wanted to ensure all children have equal opportunities regardless of their background and any challenges they may face.
“We’ve already made the biggest changes for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in a generation, but we want to go further and build on that success.
“Our multi-million pound investment will enable local councils to build new classrooms and improve facilities for pupils, ensuring that no child is left behind,” he added.
‘Drop in the ocean’
Councils will be expected to consult local parents, carers, schools, and others on how their funding should be used and publish a short plan showing how they will spend the money.
Every local authority, except Isles of Scilly and City of London, will get at least £500,000 to be spent over three years from 2018.
Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said heads would be very pleased with any government spending on education, particularly when it is aimed at helping young people with the greatest needs.
But he added: “Unfortunately, however, this is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.
“Schools will have to make £3bn of savings to their annual running costs by 2020, which will have a huge impact on the curriculum they are able to offer and the support they are able to give young people, because they will have far less staff.
“In addition, the National Audit Office recently reported that it would cost an estimated £6.7 billion to return all school buildings to satisfactory or better condition.”