Saturday 25 August 2012

GCSE Results - Updated

Update 25 August: All of the local authorities in the region have now published summaries of their schools' performance in the GCSEs, and I have now added in a table showing how they did in the A*-A and A*-C bands. The results show that in the crucial A*-C category, Carmarthenshire was outperformed by every single neighbouring authority. In the A*-A band, the county came fourth out of six.

This tends to confirm suspicions that education in Carmarthenshire is being run more like a project as the "Modernising Education Programme" is rammed through, and rather less like an education service.


Put two Welshmen together and you are likely to get three opinions, but one of the things we can all agree on is that we are very good at running ourselves down in comparison with the neighbours (except in rugby, of course).

So it was with a sense of inevitable doom that we would be told once again on the evening news bulletins that Welsh children were lagging behind their English counterparts and the rest of the UK in the GCSE tables. Followed by a forecast of torrential rain with possible local flooding over the coming bank holiday weekend.

And so it was, although apparently the gap in GCSE attainment narrowed slightly. Or not, depending on who is reporting:

BBC News - GCSEs: Wales' pupils results fall but gap closes with UK

Western MailGCSE results show widening gulf between Wales and rest of UK

The problem with statistics of course is that they can be made to show anything, especially when the dataset is as huge as it is for GCSE results.

The national statistics for Wales mask huge variations, just as they do for England, to the point where you have to wonder whether anything meaningful can be read into them. Unfortunately, though, these are the headline figures which are picked over by the BBC and the London media.

Results at a local authority level are much more useful, although they will obviously also mask significant variations from one school to another.

So as we brace ourselves for high winds and heavy rain, here are a few rays of sunshine plucked from the tables.


Ceredigion and Gwynedd deserve particular praise.

Carmarthenshire's performance at just a whisker over the national average is disappointing when compared with its neighbours in Ceredigion and Neath Port Talbot, where 79% of passes were in the A*-C range. Needless to say, Carmarthenshire's department of spin didn't see it like that:

Pupils across Carmarthenshire have scored top marks in GCSEs. The  percentages for grades A*-C, and overall passes, have surpassed the Welsh averages, and maintained the achievements of previous years. 

With A*-C passes running nearly 5 percentage points behind Ceredigion and a staggering 12.7 percentage points behind Neath Port Talbot, serious questions need to be asked. 

In fact, Carmarthenshire performed worse in the key A*-C grade band than any of the surrounding local authorities. Even Pembrokeshire managed to do slightly better in this category, which is saying something.


Neath Port Talbot

I will leave the heavy duty number crunching to Syniadau. Given the emphasis placed on Welsh medium education by Gwynedd in particular, but also by Ceredigion, it would be interesting to see how Welsh medium schools stacked up. On the face of it, they have performed well.

Meanwhile in Carmarthenshire it was great to see some very good results from the doomed Ysgol Pantycelyn in Llandovery, despite the county council rather than because of it.


Anonymous said...

Is the GCSE exam system is norm-referenced or criterion referenced? If norm referenced, then a certain ratio of examinees will be allowed to fall into each grade, and the grade boundaries will be adjusted accordingly, regardless of the ability of the yearly cohort. If criterion referenced, then a student demonstrating a particular level of knowledge/attainment will receive a particular grade. In a year with brighter students you would have more higher grades. In another year, less.

What we now have is parental contentment with a criterion-referenced system providing the percentages of higher grades go up each year, but when they go down, parents cry foul and ask for a norm-referenced system which guarantees at least the same grade ratios as in previous years.

I can excuse parents for always wanting the best for their little Johnny or Jenny, but I can't excuse examiners and politicians who should have more balls and integrity than to allow this annual exam result fiasco to continue.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, would you please correct the first sentence to

Is the GCSE exam system norm-referenced or criterion referenced?


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

GCSEs are criterion referenced (unlike the old norm referenced O levels).

This is why there has been such a hue a cry over wholesale tinkering with grade boundaries:

if a child shows they meet the criteria for a grade, then they should get that grade, irrespective of the number of their peers who achieved at that grade or above.

Anonymous said...

...but when they refer to "moving grade boundaries", they are referring to a norm referenced procedure. A grade boundary is not an educational attainment criterion. Discuss....

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forget my reference, I'll get marked down for that no doubt...or will I?

"The Education Secretary Michael Gove was facing mounting anger last night over the decision by exam boards to raise grade boundaries in the English GCSE exam at the last minute."

Unless it says somewhere that "if you know X, Y and Z, you will get a grade so and so", and that is applied consistently, then it ain't criterion referenced.

The sooner we have one central exam board beyond government control the better. Oh, I forgot, there already is one, it's called the International Baccalaureate...

Anonymous said...

Just to comment that Welsh Medium Schools are selective from primary to secondary with parents selecting from both language groups to send their children to perceived better schools so it is no wonder that they get better results .
English language primary and secondary schools have to take the rest and that means all language groups ie polish Indian , Chinese all abilities ie statmented children , troublesome children so that comment is not accurate and a bit biased old chap!!

Anonymous said...

Shame on you!- are censoring comments on the quality of Welsh Medium Schools exam results !! the truth is sometimes not so easy to swallow - welsh medium schools are selective whether that is by the schools or parent selecting to self select and so diminishing the English language only schools who are getting the weaker pupils

Cneifiwr said...

Anon, you weren't censored. I was just away for a few days.