Underachievers at GCSE: Why a critique of the data is needed


After reading this morning’s Guardian article on Ofsted’s reaction to the number of level 5 students (higher achievers in primary schools) not reaching A and A* grades at GCSE, I felt a need to respond. You see, I teach a great number of these so called level 5 students each day who, according to the data can write well, have good spelling and have a secure grasp of sentence structure. Yet within their daily tasks, the level of literacy is barely passable as literate. For my money, the main reason for this is coaching. The SATs are so important to primary schools that in year 6, many hours are devoted to developing their skills related to the SATs, not general literacy skills but how to answer the sort of questions they will be presented in the test and ,it is fair to say, for many this approach works and they do indeed do well, achieving level 5.

The problem, comes when they move away from formulaic literacy into a secondary education where it needs to be applied within specialist areas such as Art, here they struggle as they haven’t been taught in that way and, given the focus on the SATs, their practical art skills often are lacking so to fill both gaps is setting them up to fail. From professional conversations, I know Art isn’t the only problem area. Therefore tackling the performance of e most able isn’t the solution to this problem but making sure that those that are assessed as attaining level 5 during key stage 2 actually are functioning at that level and haven’t been coached to pass a test at that level is the key.