All men have secrets and here is mine

From the outset I have a confession to make. I’m no fan of early entry. I’ve seen it suggested as if it was a panacea and could turn a department or a school around and seen subject areas use it having seen successes at other institutions but without the understanding that where it has been successful it wasn’t solely the act of entering students for exams early that made the difference. What was actually needed was an improvement in the quality of classroom practice. Along with coursework catch ups, one to one intervention, meetings with senior leaders for target groups etc it was another example of rearranging ambulances. Not that these aren’t useful and don’t make a difference but, as I’m told by those who are keen on this sort of argument, evidence shows that everything works but it’s how much impact not just having some that’s our vital measure.

You’d expect then that I’d welcome the announcement today to only acknowledge the first grade as part of the school performance figures as it should put an end to these excuses for not tackling underperforming teachers and concentrating on improving classroom practice.

Not so.

Today’s announcement has little to do with classroom practice and merely serves to beat schools up all the more. While I wish schools didn’t feel the need for early entry and had confidence that their teaching and preparation for final assessment were bulletproof, entering students early works for a number of students and a number of schools where a one off stab at it has failed in the past. These schools will now not be able to make a decision based on what suits their students best, as I would imagine very few would be happy to put themselves in a position where they would be represented by exam results that were achieved with six or seven months of teaching left

It is also divisive as it means schools will be in a position where they will be appearing to make a decision about whether to meet the needs of their students or the public relations agenda of the institution. These two don’t necessarily have to be in opposition and in fact taking the early entry and the early results could in the long term mean schools remaining in a category for an artificially long time which will impact on staff morale, recruitment and so on which will in turn impact on students for a longer period. But the perception will be there.

On top of this the decision about early entry which may well have sat with department heads will now have whole school implications in ways it didn’t previously and mean that it will be heads and senior teams making the decisions and potentially creating more disharmony between teachers and leaders who already receive flak for ‘just doing all of this for Ofsted.’ Similar to the current action short of strike action Mr Gove will have his way and hardly be affected while the tensions will grow between groups within schools and the profession who should be working together for the good of our students.

Like I said at the outset, personally I’m not convinced by early entry and don’t see that it achieves much that a mock wouldn’t do in terms of motivating students, giving an interim assessment to identify where next or preparing for exams. In fact I’ve seen early entry equate to an early finish for some who got a ‘target grade’, said thanks everso and then coasted till the end of the year in a manner which spread further than those subjects that they had entered early but equally I’ve seen schools who have used it effectively and been recognised in inspections for doing so. While I may not like it and Gove might not either if it’s allowing students to achieve a ‘gold standard’ C or above who might not otherwise then what difference does it make to give them a crack at it?

And when you announce it in the week when entries or withdrawal need to be decided and we have a strike so lack the time to have the necessary and incredibly complex discussions then you’re clearly just sticking it to us Mr Gove and that’s not on.

Lots of Love

Colin

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