Headteacher Brian Rossiter outlines his experience of seeking to take advantage of the variety of alternative qualifications available to boost his school’s headline statistics, while at the same time preparing individual pathways into the world of work for his students

The rise and rise in the importance of CVA (contextual value added) has sharply highlighted a series of issues for schools in the data manipulation area. Like many schools, at the Valley School in Worksop, Notts, we have been seeking to exploit the rules while still holding true to our educational principles. This has caused us significant difficulties, as are outlined in this article. I have picked up some of the key areas we have been looking at, along with possible solutions to some of the problems faced. The context for our focus on CVA comes from our poor (Ofsted’s view) CVA figure. Our school is viewed as being highly inclusive. The pressure to permanently exclude students as a response to their educationally destructive and highly anti-social behaviour has been resisted. We set up individual pathways for some students, most of whom have off-site provision with external partners and employers. The mix of work placement and personal development programmes has produced a group of our students with pathways into the world of adult employment and training. Being inclusive had its cost to the school. Looking at the statistics of last year’s cohort, where we had a particularly large group of students on these individual pathways; out of a cohort of about 300 we had 17 students who had packages that involved no GCSEs. They worked with a ‘placement officer’ to settle into monitored work placements where they achieved considerable success. In September, after officially leaving school, 16 out of the 17 were in paid employment with only one joining the ranks of the NEETs (government classification – not in education, employment or training). And of these 16, four had achieved so well in their placements that the employers had offered them modern apprenticeships. Beyond these 17, a further 18 had a mixture of GCSEs, FE college taster courses and work placements. These students achieved less than 44 points at GCSE and had a huge impact on our CVA figure. Our mean ‘capped points score’ (CPS) was 255. Using national data (mean CPS = 291) and removing the 17 ‘no score’ students from our role (as we could have done to some had we decided to permanently exclude them at an earlier stage) our mean CPS would have risen to 271. Recalculating without the second cohort of individual pathways students results in a figure of 290 – only one point from the national figure.

Focusing on the student

Individual pathways had a significant effect on our CPS and hence CVA score. We were focused on the student and not on the qualifications. The fact is that these students were not discarded, were given a pathway that engaged them and led them into routes where they could be active participants in their own futures. After leaving Valley School, they are now contributing positively to society. The school paid a price for caring for these individuals. Outsiders looked at our CVA and criticised us. It was clear from their comments that for the summer 2007 cohort we had to look for point-bearing qualifications to run alongside these individual pathways. It was that or force these students to follow inappropriate GCSE (or similar) courses where there was a strong likelihood of failure and further destruction of the education of others surrounding them. We set about looking for qualifications that would complement the student pathways. Health and safety had been part of the programme these students followed. We found that we could employ a trainer to run H&S sessions across a day and students could then take the appropriate H&S qualification test at the end of the day. This resulted in the acquisition of eight points. The students had spent some considerable time engaged in a personal skills development programme run by an organisation called Skillforce. Negotiations with the organisation resulted in the students building portfolios so that they were in a position to be entered for two Level 2 key skills qualifications. These also carry points and add to our CPS and CVA calculation. The dash for points Across the country there has been a dash for points to boost headline performance figures. Like many we have watched with amazement the rise of four GCSE equivalent courses. The effect on the headline five plus A* to Cs in schools introducing such courses has been dramatic. The statistical bar has been raised as these multiple qualifications also push the CVA bar higher and higher. We took the decision several years ago that we were not going to adopt that strategy. We have been left behind. We are now developing the area of ICT and the use of multiple grade qualifications. AiDA (Assessment in Digital Applications – equivalent to one GCSE), CiDA (Certificate in Digital Applications – two GCSE) and DiDA (Diploma in Digital Applications – four GCSEs) form part of the suite of programmes we are introducing. On a personal level, I do have an issue with the narrowing of the curriculum being followed by students on four GCSE courses. The advantage of these ‘digital application’ courses (besides the multiple points possible) is the portfolio-based nature of assessment and the wide variety of commercially available learning materials that exist to support them. The soon-to-be-reported headline five plus A* to C, including English and maths, will go some way to calming my concerns about the targeted use of such four GCSE qualification routes by schools to boost the headline figures. The introduction of applied GCSEs, such as science and manufacturing, has also significantly boosted our school performance. These courses deliver two GCSE grades and are also assessed by the creation of extensive portfolios of evidence with a summary, theory exam that can be taken when the students are ready to take it. Ours take the manufacturing exam (40%) at the end of Year 10. Close tracking of student performance with students in these and other courses enables them to focus closely on what they need to do to achieve, and in many cases exceed, their targets. Sharing tracking information and involving students in the process has also been shown to be extremely motivating for our students as they can immediately see the rewards of their labours. The development of Adult Literacy and Adult Numeracy (ALAN) offers students a qualification that will eventually have value in the outside world. We have adopted these qualifications and they are taken across the whole school cohort in Year 10. This allows some students who are disengaging with education a chance to get some qualifications, before they take up an individual pathways programme, and accumulate points.

Positive effects

We have used the web-based assessment method previously and found that students like the immediacy of the response; ie they finish the test and can immediately see if they have scored enough to pass. Those students at Valley not getting the required score are then given more support in their identified areas of weakness and they re-take the test when they are ready to do so. The net effect to the school has been positive with the ALAN scores affecting our mean points score. The issue we are facing with this qualification is that of entry into our post-16 centre. We require students to have five GCSEs grade C or above to embark on AS courses. Question: What would you say to a student who has Adult Literacy and Adult Numeracy (equating to one C) and four GCSEs including maths and/or English grade C and higher? Our SEN students follow an ASDAN qualification route. ASDAN is available across the whole ability range but we have found much merit in the style and assessment processes (portfolio-based) of the qualification.

The ongoing development of the ‘Foundation Learning Tier’ is the latest manifestation in the qualifications world. In essence it is a collection of qualifications that is aimed at all learners over the age of 14 working below Level 2. You can find much useful information on this page on the QCA website.

One trick we missed and still find extremely challenging was that of trying to get information about our students’ qualifications outside the classroom. It may only account for a very small number of students and these may be the students who already have a relatively high capped points score. If the school has played a significant part in training the student (eg peripatetic teaching being provided) their achievement of, for example, Associated Board music Grade 5, can be added to their school points score. Similarly 6.3 points can now be claimed for every student who achieves the Sports Leaders UK Level 1 Award in sports leadership. Again this may have a small effect on CVA.

A difficult path

I have to admit that this move to widening the scale and type of qualifications and our search for alternative qualifications has not been easy, either philosophically or practically. The plethora of options has taken some disentangling. Tracking all of these qualifications, their entry, their success rates and their effects on the subsequent whole school CVA score, is a potential nightmare. We are not deterred, however. We have an able deputy head who leads on the educational elements in this area. We could not cope with the pre-workforce reform staffing model where teachers had a major role in the tracking process. The deputy head leads a very effective data/exams team of three support staff. Together they map our data strategy and its contribution to our school improvement and quality assurance programmes. They are, however, holding their breath – the future and the full implementation of specialised diplomas will test our systems to the limit and we will probably have to add to the team! In this modern world of accountability, Ofsted and the contextual value added measure, I am very aware that points mean prizes. I still hold the view, however, that this should not be at the expense of providing personalised pathways for students. If we forget that, we do them an injustice that stays with them throughout adult life.

References:

NEETs

H&S qualification: email [email protected]  

Skillforce  

DiDA (Diploma in Digital Applications) etc
Applied GCSEs
Adult Literacy and Adult Numeracy
ASDAN
Foundation Learning Tier
Associated Board
Specialised Diplomas

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