I’ve just googled “Do I enter students for Higher or Foundation” – the top two, and most of the results on page 1 were in relation to Maths, but surely every other subject must have the same dilemma? That’s not the reason for this post though, what spurred me on was a genuine curiosity about how teachers make this decision or in fact who makes the final decision: students, parents or teachers?

I am a product of the first ever GCSE exams (which gives my age away, if you can be bothered to work it out!) and I cannot recall any discussions about which tier I would be entered for, in fact I don’t recall being greatly involved or understanding the implications of the change from “O” levels either. I just knew I had exams and that I needed to revise for them – whether I did what was required of me, is a different matter. Maybe my ignorance of the “bigger picture” wasn’t such a bad thing for me – I did OK. My recollection may be indicative of a general ignorance amongst students at that time, or it may be testimony to my teachers at the time not cascading the pressure down to students. I just don’t know. The picture today is very different – most, if not all, of our students are aware of which tier they are entered for, in most of their subjects however, some of them may not understand the implications of being entered at a specific level.

My parents trusted the school and teachers to do the right thing for me and not once did they question anything that the school did (To illustrate this at an extreme level: – I was removed from an internal Welsh language exam for talking – it wasn’t me, I swear it wasn’t. My mam, wrote to Mr Roberts saying that I always talked before thinking, and that if the school could help, by giving me some strategies she would be very grateful!! She just had such a level of respect for teachers that she would never have dared to question their authority or decisions). I’m not saying it was right – its just the way it was. In todays information rich society, parents can do their own research but there is so much misleading information out there … for example, one site I’ve just found, claims that students should expect to improve by 1 grade between their mock and the actual exam, but surely this depends on when they sit the mock exam – this is such a sweeping statement, and may give some students and parents false hope. I know parents want their children to have the best chance, but so do their teachers. We’ve been lucky (not the word I’m looking for, but will have to do) in that our parents are supportive of the decisions and it is extremely rare that we will enter a student for a tier that we feel may not be suitable (for some reason) for them, after it has been challenged by a parent.

As teachers we all want our students to do well – I had the privilege this week of supporting my Head of Department (Yes Christian I said it was a privilege but don’t let it go to your head!) and it was lovely to hear him telling his group that the reason he wants them to do well, is not about beating last years results, but so that they can “earn more money than him”. It wasn’t about earning money, and the students knew that – the sentiment was that he wanted them to achieve some level of success, when they venture out into the real world and having the best maths grade they were capable of would go some way to helping them achieve this.

As a department we use a combination of Higher and Foundation dependent upon a number of factors, including target data, current attainment and teachers’ professional judgement – I’d like to think that we make the right decisions for our students – our overall results would support this, as would the levels of progress that the students are achieving.

I would be interested to know what happens in other schools – How much are your students and their parents/carers involved in the decision making process if at all?