We’ve said on more than one occasion that teaching is a vocation - teachers teach because it’s their calling. They get into the profession because they want to make a difference to the lives of children - to help impart knowledge on a subject matter they are passionate about and encourage students to feel excited about learning so they can go on to reach their potential.
It’s because of these reasons, people pursue a career in teaching in spite of the difficulties the industry faces. It’s no secret that today, we’re in a teaching crisis. Teachers are working ridiculously long hours to keep up with their workload and are under constant scrutiny to reach targets. Schools are faced with insistent issues when it comes to teacher retention, recruitment, Ofsted and of course, budget cuts.
This is why, when we hear about the recent news of schools and sixth form colleges asking students to leave based on their recent AS results due to them either not achieving high enough grades to secure them places at top universities or simply because they weren’t good enough, it makes us question if these schools have forgotten why their staff got into teaching in the first place?
The desire to be a good school is one that every school should have, however, measuring the entire success of a school based purely on students’ grades and school league tables can be at the expense of the students. The examples we’re referring to that have made recent headlines are ones in which schools have asked students to leave due to them not having achieved the grades the schools in question deem acceptable. Unfortunately, when a student is judged solely on their academic ability and there are such harsh consequences for failing, this is undoubtedly going to have a detrimental impact on the student.
A Levels are already a stressful time for young people without the added pressure of having to relocate their studies to a new school and leaving their friends behind. This confidence knock could have a serious impact on a student's well being and self worth and could also set them back in their studies if they’re unable to find a place at a new school straight away. What’s more,the actions that these schools are taking in which they don’t allow those students who have underperformed to continue with them, mean the results they’re producing are in fact vanity metrics reported on at the expense of young people.
These recent articles unsurprisingly sparked conversation in our offices and interestingly enough, a member of our team almost fell victim to these methods as he was a former student at one of the schools who made headlines this week for asking 16 students to leaved based on the AS results.
Henry was a student at his previous school when it was ranked the number one school in the country, his AS results consisted of AAC. However, their requirements for students to continue onto A Level is to achieve a minimum of three Bs and as a result, Henry found himself in uncertainty. As he’d already proved himself as more than capable with his 2 As, instead of being asked to leave the school unlike many of his peers, he was instead asked to sign an agreement which stated, that if his grades did not improve, he would have to leave. Luckily, the paper that put Henry at risk was remarked and found to have been graded inaccurately and was awarded a B, making his results AAB, putting him in the clear.
As you’d expect, when we heard about the methods we were shocked - I’d never heard of anyone being kicked out of sixth form for getting less than a B, nor had the rest of the team. So, to put this practice into perspective we did a quick tally of our team’s AS level results to see where we’d fair under their standards, and unfortunately for us, half of us wouldn’t have made the cut.
What must be taken into consideration however, is that of the two schools that made headlines this week, one of them was a Grammar School in which excellence is instilled in students from day one, with students being required to take 11 plus exams in order to gain a place. The other school in the news was the first sixth-form college established under Gove’s free school programme, where students are selected based on expectations of high GCSE grade attainment.
What these schools have in common is that high attainment and achievement are expected. They position themselves as elitist and expect students’ grades to reflect this, so they can uphold their reputation and maintain their positioning at the top of the school league success tables. Now, there is nothing wrong with being a high achieving school, in fact this should be celebrated, but we need to look at how they get there.
The ‘culling’ of students who fail to meet their high expectations should not be overlooked, not only because it’s immoral but because of the impact it can have on students. As educators, we have a duty to ensure that we are doing all that we can to help students succeed. We do however understand, that schools can resort to these measures due to the immense pressure they are put under to perform, produce tangible results and show continued improvement in student grades, but it is paramount, that we do not forget why we got into the industry in the first place.
Education is for everyone and students should not be made to feel disheartened or unworthy based on a letter printed on a piece of paper. As much as being a high achiever is of course encouraged, it must be remembered that not everyone’s abilities are matched and success can be measured by different metrics. This is a high pressure industry, which may not always be evident to others, but this could easily lead to the focus on grades and numbers to overshadow the real needs of students. But, if you can help a child to realise their worth, potential, passion, talent and unlock a thirst for knowledge, you’ve already won.