There has been much Press comment, as ever, about the GCSE results and the ‘league tables’. This year, 2016, the talk has been about the overall fall in A* to C grades and a drop in ‘passes’ (C grade and above) in Maths and English – partly occasioned, it seems, by 17 year olds undertaking re-sits. It is true to say, however, that there has been a toughening up in the marking of GCSEs and as they have been reformed there has been less course work – and thus subjects become increasingly assessed terminally (i.e. after two years, in Year11). I am delighted to say that Ballard has ‘bucked the trend’ and has seen a steady improvement in our results.
Ballard is a relatively small school with around 60-65 pupils in our leaving class of Y11 each year (and there were 61 pupils in the 2016 cohort). This means that it takes only a very few pupils not to achieve the ‘gold standard’ of 5 A* to C grades and the overall percentage falls. Larger schools, such as the maintained ones, will have several hundred in their exam years and so even with quite a few pupils falling short the percentage overall may still hold up well. This is one of the reasons I dislike league tables! Another is that, sad to say, it is notoriously difficult to trust tables published by the Press in August each year. They depend on schools honestly telling them their results (it’s only in about January that the final and official tables are published), they take no account of re-marks and appeals (in 2015 we submitted 75 EARs – enquiries about results – with 6% resulting in grade changes) and they may also not reflect the actual type of GCSE offered by the school. In recent years some schools have been ‘experimenting’ with IGCSEs (which suffer from less government interference but can be harder) and some of these exams do not appear in official tables. (We do IGCSE English and IGCSE Business Studies.) Most of all I don’t like the tables because they cannot show how well individuals have done. Many of our success stories lie not with those who have excelled in terms of As and A* grades (and many have) but with those who when they arrived here may have had a learning difficulty (or an emotional one) and have overcome the odds to secure several ‘passes’ and some close to a ‘pass’ (reckoned as a C grade) – all above the odds. They also don’t show that this year nine of our departments have 100% pass rates and five had only one pupil with a single grade below a ‘C’.
And so what about this year’s results for Ballard? It’s been rather like the Team GB success at the Rio Olympics! We have done better than some predicted and whilst there were the inevitable disappointments there were also stunning and delightfully unexpected triumphs! We have improved our percentages year on year where any 5 ‘passes’ (A*-C grades) are concerned (84% of pupils in 2013 and 89% this year) and where the ‘gold standard’ (inc. English and Maths are concerned) from 69% in 2013 to 85% in 2016. In the main we prefer to use a 4-year average for GCSE results as this takes a better account of the relative strengths of year groups which, as I have said, with a relatively small roll such as ours can vary considerably year on year. This will be published as soon as our results are all confirmed.
‘gold standard’ of at least 5 passes at A*-C grades
At least 5 passes of any subject at A*-C grades
A*/A grades achieved
Pupils achieving A*-C in Maths (Year 11)
Pupils achieving A*-C in English
Pupils achieving A*-C in Maths & English
Pupils achieving A*-C in MFL
Subjects gaining 100% A*-B
Additional subjects achieving 100% A*-C
Subjects with only 1 pupil below C grade
85% (with a cohort of 61 pupils)
26% overall with 37% (girls)
Art, ICT, Dance, Food Tech, Music, EA
Sports Studies, French, German
Biology, Chemistry, Physics, RS, Stats, Spanish
There are no league tables for any Prep School. Some independent schools will use SATs (we don’t and they are on the way out in many schools) but we have changed our internal assessments from CATs (cognitive ability tests) to something called Midyis which is run by Durham University for schools. This, we believe, will give a much better individualised system of tests for pupils leading to GCSE indicators and evidence of ‘value added’. We have a ‘traffic light system’ whereby we can flag up pupils doing well and on or above performance (green) through some concern (amber) and great concern (red).
Ballard, as a family-friendly holistic school, continues to do exceptionally well by its pupils. We are committed to academic rigour, wide opportunities and good manners. This ‘roundedness’, we believe, stands the test of time and creates fine citizens for the future.
Alastair Reid (Headmaster, Ballard School) August 2016