A Festival … for Education?!

I have rarely, if ever, felt so empowered to improve my own teaching and to help others improve theirs.  I have just spent two days at the Sunday Times Festival of Education, and it was simply amazing.

I have to be honest and say that festivals are not normally my kind of thing.  In my limited experience of them, they seem to have involved standing in long queues waiting for something that falls somewhat short of satisfying – a band that’s barely audible or visible, a burger that’s barely cooked, or a chance to use a toilet that’s simply unbearable.  So, I must admit that I almost binned the Festival flyer without even reading it.  So glad I didn’t …

Festival of Education

This was a whole different type of festival.  For a start, it was hosted by Wellington College: a totally amazing venue with fantastic facilities.  I was really impressed by how well-organised everything was: there was so much going on, and yet everything went so smoothly.  Well, almost everything … Michael Gove was “struck in traffic” and kept us all waiting for over an hour.  Wellington College to the rescue!  The headmaster, Dr Anthony Seldon, conducted an impromptu interview with Jimmy Mulville, whose children are at the school.  Jimmy is best known for creating the TV series “Have I got news for you”, and he shared various amusing anecdotes about the guests who have appeared on the show.  One delegate left in disgust, and it transpired that she was the wife of Alistair Campbell, who had just been characterised as someone in need of a little humanising.  The rest of us were unaware of this as we laughed at Jimmy’s largely gentle humour.  We were then treated to a second impromptu interview with one of TV’s “Tough Young Teachers” and with the creator of the “Teach First” programme which was featured in this. The atmosphere was already much improved by this point, but then Dr Seldon and various sponsors cracked open a few cases of wine, and we all found we weren’t so bothered about Gove’s late arrival after all …

And when the great man did appear.  He did not get booed, slow-clapped or hissed at, and he did not treat his audience of educators with thinly-veiled contempt, all of which I had feared I might witness.  Instead there followed an hour of respectful questions and answers in which Gove revealed a far greater grasp of education than I had previously credited him with, and far greater respect for teachers too.  I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that he won over his audience entirely, but he certainly made a much better impression on us than I would ever have expected.

There was a fantastic vibe at the whole event: I spoke with a diverse range of people with all sorts of different interests in education, and yet we all seemed to be equally excited about learning, and equally stimulated to improve our practice.  The positivity of everyone I met was a great advert for the profession, and left me feeling truly invigorated – which is no mean feat at this stage in the year!

In due course I hope to share insights from the various workshops, lectures and panel events I attended.  There was so much to see, hear and do, that I had to forego many opportunities I know I would have enjoyed.  I would have been really interested to hear Michael Wilshaw, Kenneth Baker, Estelle Morris, David Blunkett, Melvyn Bragg, Andrew Adonis, Ruby Wax, David Baddiel, Ian Livingstone, Lauren Child, Rob Coe, Rachel Jones, Dan Edwards, Geoff Barton, Laura McInerney, Kris Boulton, Joe Kirby, Tom Sherrington and of course Johhny Ball (a childhood hero of mine).   Richard Dawkins and David Starky were also at the Festival.

So, who did I get to see, and what were they talking about?

Putting Evidence to work – Kevan Collins

Helping Children find words – Hywel Roberts

What’s worth learning today? – Guy Claxton

How not to get sacked – Jeremy Sutcliffe, Brian Lightman, Christine Goodyear, Stuart Westley, Dame Alison Peacock & Tim Hands

The Trivium – Martin Robinson

Is AfL wrong? – Dylan Wiliam and David Didau

Military ethos: better outcomes for young people – Shaun Bailey

Growing a love of learning in your school – David Starbuck

The teenage brain – Sarah-Jane Blakemore

How stories teach children to think – Pete Worley

How do we develop the world’s best teachers? – David Weston

Forum on teenage mental health – Rachel Kelly, Charlie Taylor, Tanya Byron & Ian Morris

How to demonstrate progress – Claire Gadsby

That’s a lot of food for thought!  I was exhausted by the end of each day – but totally buzzing at the same time.  If you’d like to know more about any of the above sessions, I do plan to share, in bitesize chunks, a little of what I learned from all these fantastic people …


Latest proposals for reforms to GCSE and A-level qualifications

As part of the on-going reforms to GCSEs and A-levels, OFQUAL has just released details of all the subjects which still need to be reviewed.  Some of these subjects will cease to exist in their own right, with their content either being transferred into other specifications or dropped from the curriculum.  Anyone can comment on these proposals as part of a consultation progress which will end on July 30th.  If you wish to take part in this, or simply want to know more about it, click here.

GCSEs which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered:

GCSEs up for reform

GCSEs which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

GCSEs under threat

AS levels which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered, with teaching starting in Sept 2017:

AS levels up for reform (1)b

AS levels up for reform (2)

AS Levels which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

AS levels under threat (1)

AS levels under threat (2)

Full A-levels which still need to be reformed, and will still be offered:

A levels up for reform (1)

A levels up for reform (2)

Full A-Levels which OFQUAL proposes to discontinue:

A levels under threat



GCSE and A-level reform: latest news


More details relating to the reform of GCSEs and A-levels have been released today.


To be taught from September 2015:

  • Science There must be at least 12 practical experiments in chemistry, biology and physics, but they will be assessed as a pass or fail separately from the main A-level grade.  More mathematical knowledge will be expected in physics.  Exams will be 100% of final grade.
  • History Topics will need to cover at least 200 years rather than 100 years.  There will also be a specific theme to be studied with a 100-year period.  Exams will be 80% of final grade.
  • English literature This will now feature an “unseen text” in a bid to promote wider and more critical reading.  Pupils will be expected to study three pre-1900 works – including one Shakespeare play – and one post-2000 work.  Exams will count towards 80% of final grade.
  • Economics There will be more maths and students must study the role of central banks and financial regulation.  Exams 100% of final grade.
  • Computer science More focus on programming, algorithms and problem-solving.  Exams will make up 80% of final grade

Full details of  AS and A level content for the following subjects (teaching from 2015) can be found here.

  • Business
  • Sociology
  • Economics
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Science
  • Art & Design
  • Computer Science
  • History

To be taught from September 2016:

New A-levels in maths, further maths, languages, geography, music, drama, dance, design and technology, PE and religious studies will be introduced.  Apparently “these new A-levels will ensure that students have the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in demanding undergraduate courses”.  For A-level language courses, marks will be equally weighted for the four skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, which puts more emphasis on speaking skills than at present.  More details relating to this and others subjects will follow in due course.

Here is the timeline for the A-level reforms:

A-level reform summary


To be taught from September 2015:

Details have previously been released for the new GCSEs in English language and English literature and maths.  In GCSE English language, the marks awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar will go up from 13 per cent to 20 per cent.  In GCSE Maths there will be tiered papers with more taxing questions for brightest pupils.  Grade C will be the highest grade available to those sitting the foundation paper.

To be taught from September 2016:

GCSEs to be taught from September 2016 will include the following measures:

  • Sciences “Cutting-edge content” such as human genome in biology, nanoparticles in chemistry, and energy and space in physics.  More maths in all sciences.  No decision yet on how practical experiments should be assessed.
  • History A wider range of historical periods to be studied, with three eras – medieval (500-1500), early modern (1450-1750) and modern (1700-present day).  More emphasis on UK history – weight given to this will increase from 25 per cent to 40 per cent.  Exams 100% of final grade.
  • Geography Schools will have to confirm that students have completed two pieces of fieldwork.  Exams 100% of grade, but will include questions about fieldwork topics.  More maths and more emphasis on UK geography.
  • Modern languages More translating from English into the foreign language.   All questions will be asked in the respective foreign language.

Five other subjects – citizenship, computer science, design and technology, PE and religious studies – will also be reformed on this timetable.

More details relating to the new GCSEs in ancient languages, modern languages, geography, history and science can all be found here.

Here is the timeline for the GCSE reforms:

GCSE reform summary

A fuller timeline from OFQUAL can be found here.

Further relevant information from OFQUAL can be read here.

Gove’s parliamentary statement on these reforms can be read here.

How will GCSE grades be awarded in the future?

As you know, from summer 2017 onwards, some GCSEs will be assessed on a scale of one to nine rather than A* to G. You’d be forgiven for thinking this change is purely cosmetic, with A* becoming 9, B becoming 8 and so on, but the reforms will be much more significant than this. Ofqual has just launched a consultation on the current proposals: these are summarised in this article.

You may recall from a previous post (On The Level # 2) that when we received a visit from Ofqual we were told that these reforms include a conscious effort to spread the awarding of grades more evenly, so there is less of a bulge at the top end (currently grades C to A*). As this table shows, relatively few students are awarded the lower grades, and there is bunching of candidates in the middle of the range:

GCSE 2013 grade spread

Under the new system the level of ability currently awarded a grade C will be awarded a level 4.  This means that those who “pass” their GCSE could be awarded one of six grades (4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9) rather than one of four grades (C, B, A, A*).  This will provide greater differentiation in the middle and top of the performance range.  However, grade 5 will probably be regarded as the new “pass” in order to bring English examination standards in line with the international PISA tests.  In other words, the bar will be raised.

Broadly speaking therefore, the new grades will compare to the old grades as follows:

  A* 8  
  A 7  
  B 5 PASS
PASS C 4  
  D 3  
  E 2  
  F,G 1  

As this table suggests, at the top end of the ability range grade 9 will be awarded to only about half the pupils achieving an A* under the current system (some 20,000 out of around 250,000 candidates in total). Meanwhile, at the lower end of the range a grade 1 will be broadly equivalent to both grades G & F.

So that examiners will have a reference point for differences in ability between year groups, a sample of pupils will also take a new the National Reference Test to monitor the performance of each cohort.

These changes will begin with maths, English language and English literature. Other subjects are expected to make the switch over the course of the three subsequent years, with history, geography and some sciences likely to be in the second wave.

If you would like to learn more about the proposals or even take part in the consultation, click here.

To see an earlier post on how schools will be held to account for the grades their students receive, click here.


What will League Tables look like in the future?

In 2014 and 2015, the DfE will continue to publish the information we see in the current performance tables, and the main measure will still be the five A*-C grades including English and Maths.  However, from 2016 onwards the headline figures will be significantly different:

  1. Progress across 8 subjects (to be known as Progress 8);
  2. Attainment across 8 subjects (to be known as Attainment 8);
  3. The percentage of pupils achieving a C grade or better in both GCSE or iGCSE English and Maths;
  4. The percentage of pupils gaining the English Baccalaureate.

Early indications are that this information will be reported in this sort of style [click on image to enlarge]:

league tables

So, how will these figures be arrived at?

The subjects in the Progress 8 and Attainment 8 figures must include the following GCSEs, iGCSE, AS-levels and other Level 3 qualifications:

  • English;
  • Maths;
  • The candidate’s best results in at least three of the other Ebacc subjects (Computer Science, Single Science, Double Science A, Double Science B, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, History, Ancient History, Geography, modern foreign languages and classical languages – for the full list, click here;
  • The candidate’s best results in up to three “open” subjects.  This includes all other full GCSEs, established iGCSEs, AS-levels and various  qualifications from the wider DfE Level 3 list.  This list covers courses in Art, Music, ICT, Hospitality, Sport, and more besides – click here to see it.

How will “Progress 8” and “Attainment 8” be calculated?

In 2016, 1 point will be awarded for a GCSE grade G, 2 for an F, and so on up to an 8 for an A*.  In this points system, Maths will be double-weighted, along with the best result of English Language and English Literature (provided a pupil has taken both these English qualifications – the second best score of English Literature and English Language can then be counted in the “open” subjects, assuming it is one of the pupil’s highest scores in this group).

Progress 8

Attainment 8 will be determined by dividing a pupil’s points total by 10, regardless of how many qualifications the pupil sits.  If a student receives fewer than eight qualifications, or sits qualifications which do not match the requirements outlined above, then they will score 0 points for each unfilled slot. Once calculated in this way, the score for their best 8 subjects can then be reported as an average grade , e.g. A*, B-, C+.

Progress 8 is more complicated as it looks at value added.  It will analyse a pupil’s average KS2 point score and use this to predict eventual KS4 results – e.g. 8 passes at grade C.  Pupils who exceed these predictions will receive a positive score.  The way in which this is all calculated will change year on year through to 2019, as other government reforms come into effect and as the data becomes more reliable.

For a fuller explanation of Progress 8, click here.