The sheer pointlessness of “fine grading” with the new GCSEs

From what I can make out, fine grading was essentially doing to GCSE grades the same as “sublevels” did to levels. Instead of inputting a grade, you inputted a grade and a number. Eg. A1 would imply that the pupil was at the top of the A grade range and borderline A*. A2 meant the pupil was in the middle of the A grade range and A3 meant the pupil was at the bottom of the A grade range.

Let’s face it,  the controlled assessment regime leant it self to “fine grading/laser grading” and I could see its value under that system in my subject, where 60% of the GCSE was down to controlled assessments. Basically, you could add up the UMS marks in controlled assessments and work out precisely how many UMS marks a pupil would need to gain in the “final examination” to get a certain grade, thanks to the converter tables published by the examination boards. While the final examination was an unknown, the controlled assessments were under the control of the teacher. Pupils were therefore encouraged to do repeated controlled assessments in order to improve  and “bank” even more UMS points. As a consequence, GCSE predictions could be made with some degree of certainty.

As has been said many times on Twitter, blogs and by the examination boards, the new system does not lend itself to this. To my mind, therefore, a new system is required. In my view, no predictions at all should be made until the spring term of year 11.

“But how do you decide whether a pupil is making sufficient progress?” is the next question. And this is where I become controversial.  For I actually believe that there should be a threshold grade in GCSEs which denotes a “pass”. Grades below that should be a fail. All we can do, until the end of year 11, is look at a piece of work and say “Based on that particular unit of work, has the student demonstrated a sufficient understanding of the knowledge and skills involved in that particular unit?” It is then up to individuals and departments to judge whether they have or have not. A simple yes/no system could be created for tracking purposes.

And here I come to what has always been my issue with Progress 8. I did not see anything wrong with schools focussing intervention on the old “C/D borderline”. Yes,  there were probably others who with intervention could have moved their As to A*s. At the other end, there were others who could have moved their Gs to Es. Schools are now trying to focus intervention all over the place and it does not work. At the end of the day, in the world outside education, attainment rather than progress is what matters. Progress is simply a means to an end. Of course we should praise pupils who strive towards a goal. But progress should not be an end in itself. The world will not stop asking for pass/fail exams however much some in education would like them to.

Imagine sports day. You won the race? You expect a cup? Oh no! After all, you were 2nd last year, so you’ve made less progress than the child who came 2nd this year, but was 4th last year, so they should get the cup! As for you, the fact that you won the race is irrelevant. You need to go away and have some intervention to boost your progress!

Sounds daft, but that is the logic behind the denigration of “attainment” and the celebration of “progress”. At this point someone often says, “Yes, but we shouldn’t set up a school system which creates “losers.” But would it? If I fail my driving test, I can try again next year. This is the rationale behind the idea of “repeating a year” which is used in many European countries.

To summarise, I realise that a lot of people will disagree, but I think we should shift our focus back to “attainment.” The whole nonsense about predictions is the result of a system which has become obsessed with trying to work out forensically a system of measuring progress.

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