Home > Assessment, Education Policy, Exams, GCSE, Maths, Teaching > The Early Entry Question

The Early Entry Question

This evening I happened across this tweet from Tom Bennett (@tombennett71):


“Very sad for individual schools, pupils who lose out. But these reforms eg early/ multiple exam entry, are fairer in the long run” -Tom Bennett

The ensuing conversation intrigued me, and there were lots of things I wanted to interject, but I felt 140 characters was a tad too short, so decided to sum up my feelings here.

So, early entry? A bad thing?

In itself, I would say no. I sat my maths GCSE a year early, aced it, and moved on to a certificate in additional mathematics which I enjoyed and which set me in good sted for the a level. Used this way, early entry is fantastic, and I feel it should be. This year, my school sat 3 y10 girls for their maths GCSE and they all hit A*s, there is no way they should be made to go over stuff they are majorly fluent with already for the whole of year 11.

So you think the reform Gove put in place was bad?

No, I’m majorly in favour of it. The scenarios mentioned above are not stopped by the reforms. They are the reason early entry exists. They are not, however, what early entry was being used for by the majority of people.

In my NQT year I had a year 11 class once a week. They all had Cs from the end of year ten and they would very politely tell me they weren’t interested in enhancing their maths grades as the had the C and Cs all you need right? (Wrong, actually read more here!)

That link is to a post I wrote on the idea of a threshold pass being the be all and end all, and mentions my views on early entry. That y11 class should all have been aiming for As, but stuck with Cs. If they’d not been entered early, they would have had better maths grades.

Why did schools do it then?

I don’t know. I’m fairly certain that no one involved in the decision making process at any school did it to hold pupils down. I think they must have overlooked the possibility that students would act this way. I think the driving force behind doing it was to boost the headline 5 A*-C including English and Maths figures (there’s that headline figure again- let’s hope progress 8 gets rid of this idea!)

How does it help that?

Well, it highlights pupils who may need extra intervention in order to reach the C and allows that provision to be put into place. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. I’m all for putting extra sessions and interventions on for those who need it, but I know of some schools that have, in the past, put weak teachers, or even cover supervisors, on the pupils that have hit the C and moved all their resources to the borderline.

There are bright pupils who end up with Cs who should be getting higher, but the bottom gets hit too. Weak pupils who scrape Gs or hit Us would also, at some schools, be forgotten about. They can’t get the C so why bother? I think that these pupils are the ones who need intervention most. (Again, I hope progress 8 can curb this behaviour too.)

So you think the elimination of early entry is good for top and bottom as it favours the borderline?

Actually, no. The borderline get hit with the same topics over and over because they are “big mark” questions or “dead certs” to come up. The system which put them through 4 a year meant for many “borderline” pupils at many schools they would sit maths 5 times. Each would be preceeded by a mock and revision time, leaving little time for actual, new learning. Surely it would be better to let them learn at their own pace and achieve what they can. How many people capable if A/A* were pigeonholed as “borderline” in year ten and put through this limiting regime meaning they left with a C? I’d wager a fair few.

So, what’s all that mean?

In short, I’m in favour of early entry for pupils who are ready and need to love on to the next stage. But I’m against this early entry game that was prevalent. I think that the idea to limit league tables will definitely stop it, so that’s a good thing. I do worry though that some schools may be reticent to enter the pupils who should be entered.

As for the threshold pass, C is everything idea, the faster it goes the better. I have high hopes for progress 8, let’s hope they are met.

  1. August 22, 2014 at 2:12 am

    Great post, totally agree. At my school our brightest mathematicians do GCSE in Year 10, they all get A*s then they do Add Maths in Year 11, helping prepare them for FM A level. When Ofsted came in 2013, their report was critical of us for our approach to early entry. Ofsted totally misunderstood the distinction between early entry for the top pupils and early entry for borderline. We argued our case and the report was changed.

    • August 22, 2014 at 7:39 am

      I’m glad to hear the report was changed. I think a lot of people mix up that distinction. Sometimes it feels like people are arguing about totally different things!

  2. August 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    I disagree with early entry. It has made me think about the difference between learning and performance and whether schools led by league tables and early entry prefer to focus on getting the grades at the expense of deeper learning. My argument against early entry is that teachers solely focus on results and that students taught to tests generally aim for and settle for that so-called magical C-grade instead of stretching themselves and aiming that little bit higher. Able students entered early for exams at the end of Year 10 may become lazy and not try as hard as they should. The other reason and what I consider to be a damaging consequence of focussing on short-term performance is that teachers may not stretch students as much as they could by providing a diet of comfort work that prepares students just for the tests. Teaching to tests and a focus on performance prevents teachers from inspiring their students and instilling a love for their subject and thereby continuing that subject (usu maths) onto A-level and further.

    Students taught to tests tend not to opt for those subjects at A-level and if they do, they don’t perform as well because they have not been exposed to teaching that allows them to take ownership of their learning and thus become independent learners. In short, they have become conditioned to having their hand-held into jumping through hoops and rote learning.
    Early entry is beneficial for maybe a handful of students that are exceptionally gifted but not for entire classes and definitely not for an entire cohort. It widens the gap and gives. Skewed impression of how good students actually are in that subject – in short, we are gaming the system.

    Instead of early entry even for the lost able, get them to study maths gcse until Y11 alongside the Additinal Maths FMSQ or AQA level 2.
    I am glad that students and especially schools have been discouraged by the change in policy as schools with more funding were entering students up to 7 times for the same exams and that isn’t fair for schools that can only afford 1 shot. only counting the first entry levels the playing field between all schools and I challenge anyone to disagree with that.

    • August 22, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Aye, excellent points I certainly agree with you there!

  3. August 27, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  4. August 27, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Agree to pretty much all of this. I dispair at the level of maths that some science students have at University, and a grade C on a university application is a sign of future trouble (in that I’ll be teaching them the basics). Same true for written English, maybe even more restrictive on students’ long term success at University. We are not exactly short of applicants at the moment, and could easily see Grade C English/Maths increasing along with the annual A-level point uplift, the latter of which doesn’t seen to be resulting in significantly better students… We are not talking red-brick University here, this is a post-1992 old polytechnic. Early entry in year 10 resulting in a grade C at GCSE must be seen by the school as a lost learning and progression opportunity if that is all the students get by end of year 11.

    What I really don’t want to see is the prevention of early entrance for those who are ready, particularly where the student is showing self-directed learning way above the expected level. Having seen a student get A/A*s in year 9 recently by being self-directed and genuinely interested, and then again in year 10, this is where the early entrance can work if done properly. This creates problems for the school when the student has a hole in the timetable, but its a nice problem. I have seen this managed well where the school (a struggling comp, currently in special measures) has a 6th form, allowing students to get a taster of a broader range of subjects at a higher level prior to starting A-levels.

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