Head teacher from Thame appeals to Government over new GCSE exams

David Wybron, headteacher at Lord Williams's School
David Wybron, headteacher at Lord Williams's School

A headteacher from Thame is appealing to the Government for a change in the exam system.

David Wybron, headteacher at Lord Williams’s School, has asked the Gazette to air his views on what he describes as ‘The Perfect Storm’.

He says: “Over the last month, students at Lord Williams’s and thousands of state schools across the country have been ploughing through the new GCSE examinations. Some of them have had 26 examinations.

“The Department for Education has confirmed to the school that these are the ‘very best’ qualifications and that the IGCSEs which some of our students did in English and mathematics two years ago lacked the same rigour.

“It therefore staggers me that independent schools are having nothing to do with the new GCSEs. Students attending our leading independent schools can still do coursework and end of course assessments which are less memory based and content heavy. The Department has informed the school that our students, despite taking harder examinations, will not be disadvantaged in terms of grades but:

“>> Why should state school students be put under greater examination pressures than their independent school peers?

“>> Why should state schools be penalised in league table positions if they pursue the same courses as students in our independent schools?

“>> What are we going to do about increasing numbers being put off further study in English and other hitherto popular options?

“Another feature of the storm is the recruitment crisis affecting our schools. The Department for Education has missed its target for recruiting to initial teacher training for the last five years. (According to TES analysis the country needs an additional 47,000 secondary teachers by 2024 to cope with the huge increase in the number of secondary school pupils.)

“Recruitment is getting harder, year on year. We accept the challenge of being pro-active in our recruitment strategies and we are very pleased with the calibre of teachers appointed at Lord Williams’s from overseas. What is incredibly frustrating, however, are the immigration controls which are making it very difficult to appoint the best overseas teachers.

“This school supports the ‘Let Them Teach’ campaign and requests that, as it has done with health workers recently, the Government changes its policy and allows teachers in all subject disciplines to be added to the ‘shortage occupation list’. (Currently teachers in a handful of subjects – maths, physics, computer science and Mandarin are listed as shortage occupations, which are prioritised for visas every month).

“And to fuel the storm we have the ongoing issue of funding. Alongside many others, this school faces huge financial challenges. Staffing costs and inflation are set to rise and we have to replace the heating system at our Oxford Road site.

“Funding per student is set to increase but because the Government has set a 3% cap on how much well-funded authorities would lose in the new funding formula, students at Lord Williams’s will be receiving over £1,000 less per head than students in well-funded authorities and this is before additional funding is added for deprivation.

“There are some very concrete things that need to be done. My appeal is for fairness in terms of recognising that it is not acceptable to put students in state schools under additional pressures and that a rethink of examination content and structures is vital.

“The obsession with prescribing so much content in the new GCSEs appears political; it certainly isn’t for educational reasons and moves us away from the skills our students need in the 21st Century and certainly away from the skills businesses are requesting.

“Schools should have the option of which GCSE courses they pursue but there should not be any ‘league table’ penalty if they choose IGCSEs.

“It is also an appeal for honesty in terms of the state of teacher recruitment and a request for education to be treated in the same way as health in terms of visa applications and visa extensions, so that schools at least have a chance to recruit the teachers they want. With regards finance, I am not sure if anyone is really listening in Government.”