Students across the UK have returned to school and university after the summer break, but there’s been no shortage of education news in the meantime…
Exam Results – BBC, Guardian, Independent
Half a million students received their GCSE results in August, including harder exams and the first wave of results in the (apparently confusing) new 9-1 format for maths, English literature and English language. Overall in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, passes (grades C/4 and above) dropped slightly 0.6 percentage points to 66.3%. However, exam boards said this year’s results were broadly consistent with last year, and headteachers were quick to point out that the changes mean that this year’s results are not comparable to previous years.
For the first time in seventeen – yes, seventeen – years, boys have overtaken girls in A Level results. Traditionally, girls outperform boys at every stage of education, including A Level, whereas this summer boys moved ahead in A* and A grades, with 26.6% of boys getting these results compared with 26.1% of girls, reversing a 0.3% gap last year. And despite tougher exams in a whole host of A Level subjects, the proportion of students awarded the top A* and A grades rose for the first time since 2011.
This overall improvement is, however, tempered by results in the 13 A Level subjects that have faced changes to the qualification this year: they have been decided solely by final exams, with no link to coursework or AS-levels taken after the first year of study. In these new-style A-level subjects, including history, English, psychology, physics, chemistry and biology, there were 0.7% fewer A* and A grades overall. Some 24.3% of entries attained the top grades in these subjects.
It was good day for the students of Grenfell Tower, some of whom took exams on the very same day as the fire. Of students from Kensington Aldridge Academy, at the foot of Grenfell Tower, where four pupils died in the June fire and 50 were made homeless, 62% received A-C grades and 42% were given As or Bs and the school was in the top 10% for its value added score. “It’s been tough for people,” says Kai Chappell, the school’s 17-year-old head boy who achieved 4 As in his subjects. “It’s definitely good news. I was quite anxious,” Mr. Chappell continued. “Our teachers have done so much for us.” Similarly, the sister of a victim in the Manchester bombings, who took an exam the day after his death, achieved 11 A*s at GCSE.
Conversely, pupils at Eton College have had their marks disqualified from two A Level papers after it was revealed that they were given prior knowledge of what would be in the exam. Eton pupils studying art history had their marks in one paper disqualified after the exam board, Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), investigated reports they had prior knowledge of the questions. This followed news that a (now unemployed) headteacher at the school had circulated exam questions to his sixth form class, for an upcoming economics paper. Both cases involve CIE’s Pre-U certificate, regarded as equivalent to A-levels and popular in many independent schools but which has come in for criticism over the high potential for security breaches, as many teachers at independent schools are involved in setting the papers. Pre-U certificates are only sat by 4,300 candidates a year, a tiny number compared with the 828,000 A-levels sat in the UK this summer.
Universities – BBC, Telegraph
The row over pay for university has escalated, with discussion of a pay-cap, amid the prospect of spiralling student debt and university minister Jo Johnson’s proposal for further tuition fee increases, in line with inflation. Universities are facing a £17.5 billion funding gap, which supposedly would be covered either by increasing tuition fees, or diverting money away from teaching.
Fees in England will increase to £9,250 this year, and student loans are subject to an increase in interest rates – rising from 4.6% to 6.1% from this autumn.
Ucas figures also show a 4% drop in applications to UK universities, with Brexit, higher fees and funding changes for trainee nurses and midwives all contributing to the decline. And while there has been a drop in applications from students within the EU, there has been a 2% increase in applications from international students beyond Europe.
However, in more inspiring news, Pakistani women’s rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai has accepted a place to study PPE at Oxford – and you can see some of her inspirational wisdom here
Politics – BBC, Guardian
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Education remains something of a political football, a fact that was unlikely to change over a single summer. Recent figures suggest a 12% real terms pay cut for teachers over the last ten years, in stark contrast to other leading OECD economies, where there has been a steady rise. This is despite the fact that the UK spends more on education than any other country, with most of the money going on independent school and university tuition fees.
The Tory’s proposed rise in tuition fees his a recent stumbling block when the DUP decided to vote with Labour, against the motion, meaning they will stay at the current level of £9,250 a year.
And then there’s Brexit – yes, that old chestnut. A recent study suggests that the Leave vote has left British youngsters, over two thirds of whom would say they have an ‘international outlook,’ fearing for their long-term prospects. Overall, young people said they feel “overburdened” by responsibility and “multiple barriers”, says the report, which questioned almost 2,000 18 to 30-year-olds for a study by cross-party think tank Demos, for the British Council. At the same time, Russell Group universities have announced they urgently need clarity from ministers on Brexit, and how it will affect their relationship with EU staff and students.
In case you hadn’t heard, Prince George has started school, which, bizarrely, has had a greater effect on the lentil industry than any other part of public life. Funny how these things work.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.