The ups and downs of tougher exams

Shevington High School GCSE Results 2013 - pictured are twins Jessica and Bethany White with their results
Shevington High School GCSE Results 2013 - pictured are twins Jessica and Bethany White with their results

IT was a tale of swings and roundabouts among Wigan’s secondary schools as last summer’s official league tables were published today.

There was an almost perfect split between those who saw their GCSE results improve and those who saw them go down.

This in what was widely acknowledged as the first year in a long time when exams were made tougher – a response to perceptions that they have been getting increasingly easy to pass.

Whether this accounted for all of changes of fortunes is unlikely though. Every headteacher will forecast years in advance that one year’s cohort will be stronger than another based on the pupils’ own abilities and the quality of education they received at primary school.

Using the benchmark figure of the number of pupils gaining five or more A* to C grades including English and maths, the borough average fell slightly in 2013 from 64.2 per cent to 63.8, although that figure is still considerably higher than the 2011 and 2010 averages.

The Wigan average is now also a healthy 4.6 per cent above the national one. In 2010 it was only 2.5.

Some schools enjoyed their best grades ever, including St John Fisher High School, whose five or more higher grades standard has leapt from 59 to 74 per cent in just four years.

There was a familiar sight at the top of the pile: Orrell St Peter’s High with 83 per cent. Even this was a percentage point down on 2012 but at the time, head Andy McGlown declared himself well satisfied. He said: “Everybody knows that the GCSE exams are becoming more rigorous, so these excellent results are a tribute to the hard work of students and staff.”

Hawkley Hall High School, which recently became an academy and in recent years has seen its results rocket up the table from below average to an astonishing 83 per cent, was also content with the 74 of five or more higher grades with English and maths its students managed in the summer.

Principal Roy Halford said: “That 74 per cent is almost exactly what we expected given this year’s cohort and, using the same assessment criteria we expect the grades to rise again next year. What has been maintained this year is the excellent progress of students from year 7 up to 11.”

The new league tables also include a column for what is called “valued added” – the measure of whether a school has improved a pupil’s grades and prospects beyond his or her basic abilities and rate of progress.

Scores above 1,000 are awarded to schools deemed to have added value to pupils’ achievements. And six of the borough’s schools managed this: St Peter’s, Ashton’s St Edmund Arrowsmith and The Byrchall, Standish, Hawkley Hall and Fred Longworth in Tyldesley.

Coun Susan Loudon, Wigan Council cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Overall I think we can be very proud once again of our Wigan students. I have no problem with exams being made tougher. It is good to stretch pupils. Just so long as teachers are given enough warnings and the goalposts aren’t moved mid-course.”