In view of the recent announcements having the discussion seems a tad redundant in the long term but a discussion on twitter (with @Jeremy_Denton, @MrGibbsMaths & @dognoon) last night got me thinking about a student (not one of ours I must add) – who lives close to me – as many of you will know when people have children taking their GCSE, and they know you teach maths, you end up discussing what’s happening at their child’s school.

This particular student, lets call her “A”, is what most school would class as borderline – she actually referred to herself as C/D borderline. Prior to the last March sitting she was entered into the Foundation tier and gained a C – she has very supportive parents and in the run up to the exam she had regular extra private tuition and successfully gained a C. Once the results were in the school had no intention of giving her the opportunity to improve on this grade by having a go at the Higher, however, her parents fought for this opportunity and she was re-entered. In terms of her ability, her basic skills are there (on the Foundation she gained nearly 90 on both papers) but prior to the Higher papers last week she had been given very few lessons that involved many of the Higher topics – in fact she had 2 lessons on Trig, and had never previously seen it, and that was only because she asked the teacher to explain it to her, but with some additional practice she had it nailed. This was the same with cumulative frequency, histograms and many more “traditionally” Higher topics. In fact if she hadn’t fought to be re-entered once the results were published in April she wouldn’t have had to study any more maths –  her fellow C graders were all focussing on other subjects.

Realistically does she have a chance of a B? Very probably as she worked really hard – she was even sending me texts with pictures of circle theorem questions that she was stuck on the night before the final exam. What saddens me is that if she had been taught the Higher topics for a longer period of time the probability of getting a B would have been more certain, and who knows if she had been taught Higher for her entire Key Stage 4 time, maybe her dislike of maths could have been extinguished – she has said herself that whilst the work is a lot harder than she’s done before she is enjoying the challenge. As a teacher what is even sadder is that someone, somewhere made a decision to limit her ambition to only getting a C, and the repercussion’s are not on the teachers head, apart from possibly some sleepless nights but they will affect the outcomes for “A”.  

We use early entry and the Higher tier for the vast majority of our students – get over it – we have a tough cohort and try to make sure that all of our students leave with something so a small number of them with be on the Foundation paper – but they will then go onto have a go at the Higher. The thing we don’t do EVER is limit what our students can achieve – every year we have students we can identify with target grades of E’s and F’s that go onto get B’s and their life chances are drastically improved. I don’t think that it is our place as teachers to make decisions that have far reaching implications, and the idea of limiting someone’s ambition based on data or previous results doesn’t sit well with me. 

Ultimately though we are all professionals and I know that the decisions ALL teachers make are based on them wanting the best thing for our students,  based on their experience and knowledge – so don’t think I am making judgements on other schools,  because I am not – neither am I defending what we do as a school – what we do works for us and our students – I would not be so superior as to say that “ours is the only way”. Its simple .. it works for us, but we constantly re-evaluate what we do and that will continue to be the case . As one of those students who didn’t knuckle down until the final stretch I know that had I been at school today I would be one of those students that may have been entered for Foundation in some subjects – I ultimately came out with A’s and B’s and that was down to some fantastic teachers who never, ever told me I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do.  To those who taught me: Thank you for believing in me and sorry for being a pain in the Harris!

So that’s 2 blog posts on the bounce with me waffling … I promise to post some new resources soon – I’m already working on a suite of reports to be used with the recent AQA Higher and Edexcel Higher (and Foundation!) papers that can be used for revision in the lead up to the November exam sitting.

POST SCRIPT – 22nd August 2013

I have just found out that “A” got a grade C on the Higher paper she sat in the Summer – not the B she had hoped for, but the question in my mind still remains: could she have gotten a B if she had been taught higher type topics since the start of year 10 instead of the period from April to June? I suspect she could have.

The message: Lets not limit our students’ ambition!