Home > Education Policy, Exams, Maths, Teaching > Grade C isn’t the golden ticket

Grade C isn’t the golden ticket

Recently I have found myself having one discussion repeated again and again, and it goes a little like this:

“Sir, why was I told I only needed a C in Maths at GCSE but now I’m applying for unis I need a B?”

“I never said that, and I’m pretty sure none of the rest of the department said that either.”

“No, but you’re maths teachers, it’s the whole world ain’t it. It’s all about A* to C. As long as you get a C in Maths and English you’re fine!”

Now I know for a fact that no maths teachers still at our school perpetuated this myth, and I would like to think that none of our former colleagues would have. I’m also pretty certain that none of our colleagues in other departments would. So it leaves us with the clear fact that the source of this feeling is external to the school. It is society, it is the media, it is the league tables.

We have build a system in Britain of ranking schools by their “5 A*-C including maths and English”, and this is what has given rise to the feeling. Pupils see this focus on the news, on other tv programs and in other media. They are hammered with it. It is no wonder that when some achieve grade c on early entry they feel secure with that, feel like they have the golden ticket, and place their revision eggs in other baskets.

This is why I’m spending my frees tutoring year 13’s who should have gotten As two years ago. I don’t mind doing it, they are all pupils I have a lot of time for and I want them to succeed. I just feel this could have been avoided if the country wasn’t so “C grade focussed”. I’ve already had approaches from year 12 pupils asking if I can help them get a B this summer, so I feel it is still a problem.

On the plus side, they’ve been in to explain the importance to my year 11s!

The issue is two fold really, firstly the heavy focus on Cs needs addressing. It schools were judged on levels of progress, rather than C grades, pupils wouldn’t feel that a C was the B all and end all.

Secondly, there is the early entry issue. Should pupils be put in for early entry? I think that this issue is hugely complex. I feel that some schools were abusing the early entry system and I can understand where Mr Gove was coming from when he changed the rules, but it isn’t as simple as that. Some pupils don’t make it to then end of year 11 for a variety of reasons varying from Illness, pregnancy etc to bereavement or being unable to cope. Without early entry these pupils leave with nothing, but with it they could leave with some qualifications. Also, what about your top sets, those working at a high level by the end of year ten should be able to sit it and move onto another maths qualification in year 11 (AQA offer a good L2 one and OCR a L3 one). I worry the new rules will mean schools won’t allow this incase they have an off day.

I could go on, but I’ll save that for another day. The bottom line is there needs to be reform, reform on the reporting of results, of the “headline measures” and of the early entry system.

I’d like to see some early entry allowed, but with things in place to stop the abuse (schools should not be sitting 4 different modular and linear courses simultaneously to see which gets the best grade). And I’d like the headline measure to be on progress. Remove the C obsession, and remove the stigma attached to those who don’t get it.

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  1. October 30, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Ceejaypee
    October 31, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Lots of sentiments here that I agree with. Last year my Y11 group of 25 students had grade targets of a B. At least 6 of them got a grade C but were happy with this because “its a pass at the end of the day” and their college course only needed them to get C’s. Maths at our school is one of the stronger performing subjects and so these students were largely targeted and predicted C’s in many of the other subjects. There was no incentive other than personal pride for these students to get the Grade B that I felt they should have done. Again maybe the message of “get the best you can get” should prevail rather than “just get the grade C”

    With regards to early entry, something needed to be done to stop the multiple entries and “jiggery pokery” that was conducted in the interests of stats, not students. A school local to me has even cancelled some of their early entry exams at the last minute because of the risk to their stats and the students in Y11 will now be forced to stay for longer on those subjects. Well, either the students were ready to take the exam or the school was chancing their arm? Clearly a case of stats, not students methinks, and its quite right that this practice is stopped, otherwise the laying field is not level.

    I also went for an SMT position at a school and the maths teaching I did was probability trees to a group of Y10’s who were taking maths in June of that year! This was in the October and they had not seen prob trees before! How many Grade B and Grade A students would have been shoved through early, got the C by answering the one third of the paper they could and not reached their full potential in the subject? A disgraceful waste of potential and the main reason I didn’t take the position I was offered.

    As a result of these practices, we have at my school lost the very limited use we made of the Feb Edexcel paper to push through our “at risk students” for whom a grade C is a vital fork in the road for their chosen further ed course and employment. This was about 25-30 students for whom two opportunities would help them secure their future career without wasting a year not earning doing re-takes.

    However, we must not lose sight that essentially, many of these problems come about because as school we are not measured or assessed in terms of whether students leave balanced, fulfilled and prepared for their future but mainly by a crude statistical measure based upon whether students get a grade C or not, against other schools and versus the previous year.

    • October 31, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks for the comments, it is a really tricky subject this early entry. We need a student first situation. I wonder if the change to progress based reporting from grade c focussed reporting would remove the need for the jiggery pokery and thus enable the early entry to be used as it should be, for those who will receive a benefit from it.

  3. November 3, 2013 at 1:29 am

    I’m with you on early entry… it is so widely abused that a step back was necessary. It is a pity that a few have to miss out because of it though.

  4. Stevie D
    November 8, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Hopefully as we move to the “Best 8 VA” model, and into the new grading system of 1–9, this idea of a threshold pass will hit the back burner. I’ve never been a fan of early entry (although I accept it works well in some cases), but schools that allow students to drop core subjects as soon as they have reached a C should be hounded and pilloried for their failure to push students further.

    But where has personal pride gone? When I was taking my A levels, I knew that after the modules in Y12 I could get away with doing very little work in Y13 and still get the grades I needed to get into uni on the course I had chosen. But did I? No, of course not! I worked hard, and got much better grades than I needed, because I wanted to get more than the bare minimum.

    • November 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      Hopefully the threshold pass will go. I agree schools that allow pupils to drop core should be hounded etc. God knows where the personal pride has gone. I guess as a profession we need to work hard to reinstill that.

  1. December 7, 2013 at 8:45 pm
  2. December 31, 2013 at 5:54 pm
  3. July 15, 2014 at 4:55 pm

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