Is the push for better results always in the best interests of the child?

final examImage © dcJohn @ Flickr

I teach BTEC Applied Science (level 1) in the special school where I work.  I introduced this course because I had students who were working at the bottom end of GCSE ability and had seen how previous cohorts of students had been failed by the language and literacy demands of AQA Core Science.  I hoped that portfolio based assessment would be more appropriate for students who struggle to retain information for any length of time, whilst still keeping a significant level of challenge. I also thought the freedom to set your own assignments was a good thing.  The administration involved with running a BTEC is a chore, especially when you are the sole science teacher in your school and you rely on the goodwill of other schools to help you with hurdles like internal verification, but I thought the results would be worth it.

Earlier this year my first group were awarded their qualifications.  They did pretty well with a selection of results from passes to distinction.  They were a very suitable group for this course – they tried hard, they had excellent attendance and enough of them could work independently.

Following the success of BTEC, the course was introduced to other groups.  These groups of students do not have the same excellent attendance that the previous group had (for a variety of medical and other genuine reasons).   This means that progression through the course has been slower than I would have liked, with frequent catch-up lessons for the significant number of students who have been absent (most of whom are unable to catch up without teaching input and time to do so).  Looking across my spreadsheet of assignments, I see many gaps that students have to go back and complete (a familiar picture to anyone who teaches BTEC I’m sure!).

Is it fair that students who manage to get themselves back into lessons are rewarded with mountains of work to catch up with?

Is it fair on the more able students that progression through the course is slower than it should be because we keep getting derailed by catch-up lessons?

As a school we use Fisher Family Trust data to set aspirational targets for our students.  We have to look at progression guidance data from the National Strategies team and we have our own internal target setting system using CASPA.  We are (in common with schools across the county) being strongly encouraged to increase our ‘measurable output’ in terms of key stage 4 accredited qualifications.  We are an outstanding school because of the attainment of our students (amongst other things) and because of our commitment to these students.

Is pushing students (sometimes pushing very hard) to get a better qualification always in the best interest of the child?  Is there a conflict between strands of the ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda – between enjoying and achieving?  Which is the most important?

For some students, simply attending school and sitting in lessons is a huge achievement, but we are encouraged to get them to jump through more hoops to make ourselves look better.  Until this system changes, can we really say we are acting in the best interests of the child?

I’d be interested to hear comments from readers of my website who find themselves in similar situations. (If you are reading this in an email or feed reader, click the title at the top of the screen and you should be taken straight to my site where you can leave a comment)

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Published by Rob Butler

Ex-science teacher, ex-school leader and full-time geek.

4 replies on “Is the push for better results always in the best interests of the child?”

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more. I teach science to EBD boys (we’ve come into contact on the TES forums before) and the biggest challenge is just keeping them in the room. I teach AQA Core Science over 2 years as it is about all I can fit in on the timetable, did consider other options but just think the coursework demand is too high as mine are often not in/excluded/put on long term work experience etc etc. There is a conflict between Every Child Matters and the fact that we are judged on levels, grades, APP, AFL and just about everything else.
    I am quite proud of myself that I can get these boys to do SOMETHING scientific so it is surely unfair to judge me on their grades alone. I believe if they can leave school and see something on the news/in the paper about science and say “I think that……because…..” then I have done my job!
    Rant over…

  2. Whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment of this article. There is definitely a trend towards considering league-tables in decisions of which qualifications pupils should do. This can at times clash with what would actually be useful in future years for the pupils themselves.

    I’ve heard rumour of BTECs soon no longer counting (for Science especially) in some of the 5A*-C percentages. Not sure if this is the case or not?

  3. Couldn’t agree more. I work in a special school for students with SEBD and feel the same pressures as your earlier readers. I have had the ridiculous situation of students outperforming their predicted GCSE grades by 2 whole grades but still having their progress judged as inadequate as they have not made 2 levels of progress over a key stage! This is despite having to cope with very poor literacy levels etc. I also feel a greater sense of achievement from having students have a happy and enjoyable time in school. For the majority of my students this is the only stable secure part of their lives.

  4. A belated addition, but a heartfelt one – I’m sure you realise this isn’t an issue limited to pupils in special schools. I teach mainstream but find it very frustrating that we seem to be constantly chasing grades, even when it doesn’t seem to be a benefit for the kids. I’ve no problem with a kid who wants minimum grades for college or whatever coming to ask for help – it’s why I’m here! – but when we’re working harder than the kids, because they’ve made a deliberate choice that they *don’t* want to put in the time or trouble, it starts to grate. Like Corrinne, I’d rather feel able to relax on the great grade hunt and spend a few lessons on figuring out why make-up adverts lie, or something else they’ll use – perhaps without even realising it – in their life after school.

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