.. how we’ve used early entry, Mr Gove. You would know that we haven’t used it to cheat your league tables (which, just-so-you-know show the school at which we work to be “most improved school in the country” in Jan 2013) … we’ve used it to give our students a better chance in the life they have yet to live. Today, in lots of schools decisions were being made that involved making a decision that was “right” for the schools’ position in the league table or a decision that was “right” for our students. The system isn’t right, and you probably think you are doing the “right” thing … but you haven’t even addressed the matter of multiple sittings in the same exam season … which is the one thing most people would have agreed with you on (for a change!) and its also the one thing most teachers don’t want.

I’m not some yoghurt knitter – I have opinions – I came into teaching later in life (not that late) having had a corporate career, and have made some tough decisions in the past that involved peoples’ livelihoods. It’s never easy, but I always made sure that I had all the possible facts before making any decision and I’m not so sure that all the facts were “to hand” when making this decision at such a crucial time for our young people.

Let me get this straight, we have never used early entry to get your golden standard of a “C” grade and then stop teaching them … our students have always had another go at the end of year 11. It’s only right that they get to achieve their potential by using this final sitting and getting the best grade possible. This in itself has had its challenges, and for the last few years I have had “that” group of students that have just got a C as we go into year 11 – they are disaffected, having achieved what, for most of their life they have been told is what employers/colleges are looking for and for them it was bloody hard work, and they can only foresee moving onwards and upwards as a struggle. At the outset, every year this has been tough, but by Christmas they start to believe that they can actually do it, and the nights of endless planning lessons that they can access but provides the necessary level of challenge all becomes worth it. That’s to say nothing of the tears of frustration and self doubt about my ability to teach such a group which inevitably get forgotten when they are on side. In fact a student from one of these tough groups, is now in my mentor group in year 13, after I specifically asked for him to join my group in year 12 (he’ll know who he is *waves*) having built a rapport with him.

If only you knew how we have used early entry to ensure almost all of our students leave with a grade of some sort because believe it or not, not every student finishes school in the traditional manner:

If only you knew about H, a lovely girl, and with a target grade of a C … she got pregnant and she felt like her world was falling apart. In the ideal world she would have sat her exam at the end of year 11 and got a B (with some exemplary teaching, even if I do say so myself!), but this isn’t an ideal world. However she sat the exam in year 10, and at some point in the future she will have that GCSE to fall back on, and won’t have to start all over again … if this happened now, will we be thinking “she’s worth about 0.5% and is going to impact on our league table if she doesn’t get a C”? Luckily enough she got that C, but will we be prepared to take that risk in the future?

If only you knew about D, who had major issues at home (and I mean major!), with a target grade of a D. He was entered during year 10 to get a grade to build on (he got an E) and as it turned out, he was hardly (read that as never) seen in lessons during year 11 as his life spiralled out of control. Ultimately he now has a grade to use when his life is sorted … not what he should have got, but its something, and for a student like D, given what was going on its an achievement…. if this happens now, will we be prepared to enter him early and risk the impact on the league table?

If only you knew about S, who had to be relocated. Entered early and achieved a grade D (which would have gotten her onto her college course she wanted to do) and given what was going on her life represents a major achievement – ultimately at the end of year 11 she did get a C, but it was “touch and go” as to whether she’d still be at school to take the exam. If this happened today, we would be going right to the wire of her taking the exam at the end of year 11 and adding to the pressure she was already under.

If only you knew how difficult it is to predict which students will be affected by things like the above, you wouldn’t suggest that we could still enter special cases early (they’re special in the sense that these students are special to us, but they are certainly not one-off instances) and take the hit on the overall percentages. Let me tell you about H, another bright student who ended up at the local PRU, there is no one, and I repeat no-one who could have foreseen that. Yet because of him being entered early he has a grade C – his target was an A, so we already know that we’ll get clobbered on RAISE for that – and he can now go onto college and ultimately I hope university.

If only you knew how my current year 11’s are working so hard. Set 1 are absolutely “champing at the bit” to get A’s and A*’s and my set 2 know how important it is to improve on their C’s (My last set 2 even included an A, which for our cohort represented 5 levels of progress!!) you would know that its a myth about the top end not being challenged and that early entry is suppressing grades … I’d love you to talk to them  – many of them never even thought that a C was achievable, or if they did that was the limit of their ambition, and now that they’ve tasted success they want more, and the confidence has soared.

If only you knew how many hours of sleep were lost last night, as teachers, HODs and SLT were awaiting to see the details of the changes that were introduced today (after the press, I might add!, which by the way is just bad management, if we are “all in this together”), you would know how many tough decisions are being made right now, balancing the “right thing” for the students with that of the school.

Rant over. Subject closed. End of.

Actually, one more thought: All these exams must be putting the students under a great deal of pressure I hear you say … well, not really … no more than some of them have to cope with in their day to day lives. In fact, for some it gives them a structure, a target and something to focus on that is purely “all about them” and at the end of the day, isn’t that what education is all about … our students, our future.