Don't jump to conclusions: GCSE results day

Aug. 24, 2017
James Toop

James Toop

CEO at Ambition School Leadership

James Toop's advice for leaders in anticipation of the 2017 GCSE results.

Every year for GCSE results day I’m at the Teaching Leaders residential. I’ll watch the expectant middle leaders checking back with their school to see how their pupils have done. I’ll watch the news and hear the stories of jubilant 16 year-olds who have exceeded their expectations. I’ll await a phone call from the principal of the school where I’m Chair of Governors to update me on our results.

I share in the nervous excitement, the successes and the disappointments. But this year we enter a new era. Four years ago, Michael Gove announced a wave of examination reforms aimed at increasing the 'rigour' of GCSEs. In 2017 these changes land. The reactions and feelings will be different. This year, I’m not sure what to expect.

Against this background, whatever your results this year, don’t jump to conclusions. Take more time to make sense of the implications, compare them with the national picture, and communicate. In times of change, pupils, parents, teachers and governors will look to leaders to manage their uncertainty. And you will also need to manage yourself.


Back in 2013, many lauded the efforts to raise the standard of examinations which in their eyes had become devalued and were not comparable with the best systems in the world. Others worried that disadvantaged children would struggle with the volume of content required for final examinations and that the splitting of a grade C would mean fewer 'good' passes.

Unlike last year, our year 11s arriving at the school gates today won’t have any sense of how they have done. Without coursework, their grades will be based on final examinations. They will receive results with a set of grades with two numbers, one for English and one for maths. Get a 4 in English and you’ve passed, but get a 5 in maths and you will have a 'good' pass.

We are now getting used to the introduction of new accountability measures for schools. EBacc, Progress and Attainment 8 have changed the way we judge school performance, but while Ofqual will work to ensure comparable individual pupil outcomes, school performance will not be comparable.

"Take more time to make sense of the implications, compare them with the national picture, and communicate. "

School leaders and governors need to review this year’s results with caution. Progress 8 is a complex measure: it is weighted towards rewarding the progress of higher ability pupils this year; outlier pupils with very low scores can have a significant effect; and results are not comparable year on year.

And for the next few years, this feeling will be the new normal. The changes to school performance will continue. In 2018, the DfE will start to look at EBacc points, refine Progress 8 and start the drive towards 75% EBacc participation by 2020. Outcomes in 2018 will still not be comparable to 2017, so school improvement will be hard to measure for a few years yet.

So when you review your results, hold your nerve. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions. Don’t celebrate too loudly or feel too downbeat. We won’t be able to judge performance until we have had a reasonable chance to review results nationally. And it will take time to understand how the changes have affected our most disadvantaged pupils.

The only thing we can do is the most important thing: to celebrate each individual pupil for their effort, achievement and success. The day is about them and their teachers. Our reward is their success and their future. Let’s celebrate that.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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