BISHOPS have praised the resilience of students and the “unstinting work” of school leaders, after a week of anxiety and anger surrounding A-Level and GCSE results.
Pupils in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland received GCSE grades given by their schools, on Thursday, after a flawed algorithm designed by Ofqual and used for A-level results last week was scrapped by the Government in the face of fierce protests.
The Government got a “B” and two “O”s
The teacher-assessed GCSE grades show a similar degree of inflation to the A levels. The percentage graded 7 or above (equivalent to an A) rose from 21.9 per cent to 27.6 per cent. Overall, the percentage of students achieving a pass — grade 4 or above — rose from 69.9 to 78.8 per cent.
Half of the 500,000 students who had taken alternative BTec courses — career-based qualifications — were without their results on Thursday, however, after a late U-turn by the exam board Pearson confirming that it would be re-grade BTecs in line with GCSEs and A-levels. The other half of Btec students received their A-level equivalent results last week.
The Bishop of Tewksbury in the diocese of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Robert Springett, wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “The #ExamResults fiasco now a farce. Praying for students that you may know your true worth, for school and university staff working to get students on the right course. Competent leadership from government now desperately needed.”
In a statement to coincide with GCSE results day on Thursday, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who is the lead bishop for education, said that the continued row should not distract schools from the task of preparing to reopen next month, however.
“Today’s GCSE results day is an important moment of celebration for many, and for others it is a time of uncertainty over next steps and future direction. Students have shown immense resilience and character in unprecedented circumstances. The unstinting work of teachers, school leaders, and governors throughout this whole period has been absolutely inspirational.
“However, the challenging situation around GCSE, A level, and vocational qualification results has risked diverting school leaders’ time and attention away from the re-opening of schools for all students in September — a step which we fully welcome.
“Placing education at the centre of the Government’s Autumn recovery plans will ensure that schools, colleges, universities, their students and their families get all the practical support they need, for the sake of the wellbeing and progress of all children and young people.
“This will involve particular practical systematic action to support those from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensuring that addressing the needs of the most vulnerable is the central aim of us all.”
The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, and the diocesan director of education, Canon Carolyn Lewis, also praised headteachers and teachers “who have worked diligently through the anxiety of recent months and provided reassurance to students in the intensely difficult past week”.
In a pastoral note sent to schools in the diocese on Wednesday evening, they wrote: “We know that this has been an intensely difficult and stressful week for parents, carers, and students as they have received the outcomes of their post-16 studies. While many young people and their families have rightly celebrated achievements, this time has also been marked by uncertainty, confusion, and hurt.
“It has not only had an impact on post-16 students. This uncertainty has undoubtedly affected those students and their families awaiting GCSE results on Thursday.
“We are praying for all the young people and their families in the diocese of Leicester as they plan for their next steps and navigate the particular challenges that this pandemic has brought about for them. We pray that they will flourish in whatever they do — whether it was what they always dreamed of or a different path entirely.”
Although the focus had naturally been on students, they paid tribute to school and education-trust leaders and staff preparing to resume schooling next month. “We are extremely grateful for all that school leaders and teachers have done to provide calm reassurance to students along with encouragement and hope for the future.”
The diocese of Southwell & Nottingham said in a statement: “We’re delighted to see our students receiving their GCSEs this morning. Following a very challenging few months we wish them all the best in the next stage of their education and their future employment. Congratulations to all.”
The Principal of All Saints’ C of E Academy in Cheltenham, Dermot McNiffe, said on Thursday that GCSE results at the academy had continued to improve for the fourth year running, under the new teacher-assessed, school-moderated system.
He said: “Following the anxiety caused over the maladministration of A-Level results, I am delighted to see that common sense has prevailed to reflect the professional assessments of my teaching staff and leaders and indeed the profession as a whole across the country.”
The chair of the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE), Ben Wood, said of the new system: “The decision to revert to centre assessed grades is good news for pupils receiving their GCSE grades today. However, this U-turn has caused an enormous amount of distress and disruption to students, in particular those A-level students who may have missed out on their first-choice university. These students deserve every support possible at this challenging time.”
GCSE entries for Religious Studies in England, including both full and short courses, have continued to decline steadily since entries peaked in 2016. Overall entries in England fell by 2.3 per cent to 243,786, compared with 249,443 in 2019. In Wales, combined entries fell by just under two per cent from 16,327 in 2019 to 16,003 in 2020.
The chair of Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), Professor Trevor Cooling, said: “Over the past decade we have seen short-course entries plummet as a result of school performance measures and academisation. Some pupils opted to take the full course instead, which led to a significant rise until 2016. Full course entries have tailed off since then, but we are cautiously optimistic that they may now be levelling out.”
Read more on the story from Paul Vallely, and in our Leader comment