COLUMN: Testing time for exams, by Shirebrook Academy principal, Mark Cottingham

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Our year 11s are currently studying hard for their mock exams but the bad news is that many of them will have an extra English or maths test to sit next month.

It won’t count towards their GCSEs, so it may seem an unnecessary burden, but the test is all-important to the exams regulator Ofqual, because the results will indicate how bright the UK’s 2017 GCSE students are so that they can set appropriate grade boundaries for this year’s exams. We are one of 300 UK schools chosen to sit this so-called new national reference test, which is just one example of how GCSEs are changing.

Earlier this year we saw the first publication of Progress 8 results, which measure how schools have enabled students to exceed the results that were predicted when they joined us in year seven.

Next, the traditional eight A* to G grades are being replaced by scores of one to nine, with nine being the highest. English and maths switch over this year and other subjects will follow suit over the next two years. It means that there will be two different grading systems at play this summer and, to add to the confusion, students will be taking brand new English literature, language and maths GCSE exams that have never been sat before.

The result is that this is the worst year we have ever known for deciding how well our students are doing because there is nothing for us to compare their results with.

Previous exam data is vital. It allows us to understand how a student is faring and tells us how many marks they’d need to get a better grade. It indicates whether or not that shortfall can be closed and what we need to do to achieve it. It also tells us how the school as a whole is performing, what our expected results will be and what we need to do in order to improve next academic year.

Not this year. We don’t know what marks will earn what grade and because the two systems don’t line up – with eight old grades compared to nine new ones - we don’t know how grades relate to one another.

We will do all we can to get the best results we can, of course, but it is far from satisfactory and, with more subjects switching over next year, the uncertainty looks set continue for a while yet.