Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Exams - 'A Movement Finds Its Way around the System': News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Exams - 'A Movement Finds Its Way around the System': News

Article excerpt

School leaders' group is defiant in the face of 'cheating' claims.

The meeting had an almost religious feel. The setting helped (Methodist Central Hall in London), as did the sound of a church organ. But most of all, it was the reassurance and certainty that hundreds of school leaders from across England seemed to gain from coming together to hear the latest ways to squeeze the best possible exam results out of their students.

"There is a clarity that is beneficial in a time when there is so much change," said Simon Barber, head of Carshalton Boys Sports College in Surrey. "We are able to say 'don't panic and keep calm'. This is what we should be concentrating on."

As education the world over becomes ever more closely monitored, benchmarked and data driven, school leaders everywhere are having to work out how to adapt.

In England - a pioneer in measuring education performance - a group of state school leaders known as the PiXL (Partners in Excellence) Club are on the frontline.

The club, which today has more than 800 school members, including around 700 secondaries, was formed seven years ago. But it took a TES article last November to bring it to public prominence.

The story revealed that the club had been promoting a strategy that led to hundreds of schools entering students for two English qualifications at the same time in a bid to secure good grades and boost their league table positions.

Such tactics do seem to work: last year, PiXL schools had an average 4.6 percentage point increase in the proportion of students meeting the main GCSE benchmark, compared with a national decline of 0.4 points. And the resulting publicity did PiXL no harm, according to club chair Sir John Rowling, who said that scores more schools joined as a result.

But the Department for Education was not happy, condemning double exam entries as "cynical". If cynicism was present at the club's London meeting this month then it was well hidden beneath the waves of positivity, enthusiasm and "shared moral purpose" emanating from its "energised" members.

"What people get from these meetings is inspiration, the sense that there is a way forward no matter what is placed in front of us," said David Evans, a former headteacher who now works for PiXL.

Some have tended to view PiXL as school leaders' dirty little secret, a sly tactical way of climbing the all-important league tables without giving students the proper rounded education that they really need. But for the club's members it is any- thing but. They are proud of what they do and eager to open their doors to TES to reveal what goes on. In the words of Mr Evans: "What PiXL is about above all is a better future for young people."

The elephant in the room at this month's meeting was the government's sudden decision to clamp down on multiple GCSE entries for the same student in the same subject. Future school league tables will include only a student's first attempt at a GCSE, rather than their best effort. Schools will still be free to use multiple entries - a tactic promoted by PiXL - if they think it will benefit students. But doing so will no longer afford school leaders the opportunity to improve their statistical standing.

What really annoyed club members were comments from education secretary Michael Gove, who accused schools of "gaming the system", disregarding the best interests of students and "cheating". …

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