Tag Archives: GCSE

Suffolk Conservatives fail Suffolk’s children

What went wrong with education in Suffolk?

Over the last 8 years we have suffered a devastating drop in attainment relative to all other English local authorities. As Suffolk schools slip inexorably down the attainment rankings – from 30th out of of 151 in in 2001-4, to the current position of 148th of 151 at primary level and  141/151 at secondary level, we have no option but to recognise that Suffolk children are being failed when the bulk of English children are not.

While we in Woodbridge have bucked the trend at our excellent schools – the league table position of Suffolk as local education authority has dropped devastatingly until we are right at the bottom of the tables at both Primary and Secondary school level. (To reiterate the above figures, Suffolk ranks 141st out of 151 English authorities at GCSE, 148th out of 151 at the end of Primary school). The table below shows the decline in  Suffolk students’  attainment at GCSE level over the last 12 years.

suffolk gcses

The red line (at around the 30 ranking) is where Suffolk was in the league tables in the years of the Suffolk Lib/Lab Coalition. The line in blue – dropping immediately, steadily and inexorably downward – shows what has happened to Suffolk’s ‘  ranking over the last 8 years of Conservative  (mis)management.

And what this  table shows clearly is a drop that coincides precisely with this Suffolk Conservative administration’s  tenure – and policies. This drop has nothing to do with a decline in national standards, because it is relative to all other parts of the country.  It is hard to believe it is the teachers’ fault when the same teachers were producing such good attainment up to 2004.

Longterm LibDem leader Kathy Pollard links this drop inexorably to the shift in political priorities of an ideologically motivated Conservative council.

And the result? Basically, Suffolk children are being failed when the bulk of English children are not.

It is time to tell the Conservatives that we must put our children first!



Epilepsy and GCSEs: built-in injustice

So today we hear that Michael Gove would like to abolish the GCSE system and go back to old fashioned O-levels and GCEs?  Maybe. (Though the Lib Dems  think otherwise)

In the interim let us hope he looks at whether he can find a system that will be any more fit for purpose  than the existing (GCSE) system  in assessing young people with  consciousness-fluctuating conditions such as as epilepsy. That is,  the very small percentage of the youth population who toggle between being ‘perfectly well’ and briefly ‘incapable’ without warning and at a moment’s notice. That bunch of young people whose gifts and capacities have  been so ruthlessly ignored  by our current inflexible educational system with teaching shifting between  ‘special needs’ and ‘failing mainstream’ without any acknowledgement of their actual abilities. People who could be easily become a Julius Caesar, an Edward Lear, a  Dostoievsky, a Socrates..

Here is  the case of modern-day  Ms X.

Ms X has no mental impairment except for that caused by the effects of bad epilepsy and the heavy-duty medications she has to take to try and control it. Ms X is sitting GCSEs for the Nth time. This is rather a tragedy for Ms X who studies up to seven hours a day, and has done so for six years to little practical purpose.

This is because if you have a catastrophic tonic clonic seizure before or during  a GCSE  exam, you are not able to put it off till a better time. ‘Use it or lose it‘ as they say – and lose it is often the result. Ms X’s seizures are so frequent it  is pretty unlikely she will ever go through the period GCSE exams take without one or two fairly substantial tonic clonic seizures on exam-days.

Sure enough, last week her parents  were woken by a loud crash at 6am in the morning of the longest Maths GCSE exam. On rushing into her room, they found that – apart from the ongoing tonic clonic seizure itself- she’d managed to drop from a standing position, hitting her head extremely hard, and cutting both her mouth and tongue.

She was lucky. She had no more seizures that morning  and so didn’t have to take the heavy barbiturate required  to prevent her going into status epilepticus and the hospital (as had already happened for her English exam two weeks previously). In fact, she was lucky enough to  ‘come round’ – well, at least regain consciousness – two hours later. Sixty minutes before her 2 hour Maths GCSE paper. Which naturally  could not be put off or rearranged for such minor trivialities as an early morning seizure.

Yet Ms X had had the equivalent of a knock-out blow to the head. I suspect that once again, she will not fulfil her potential.

What a different outcome there might have been for Ms X and for this exam if she were sitting it in the state of health she was in the day before – or the day after.

Successive ministers and education departments have not chosen to recognise the full extent of the difficulties of a student with epilepsy. Ms X has sat the same exams under Michael Gove’s, under Alan Johnson’s, under Ed Ball’s watch. All have talked about a world-class exam system.  None has recognised the injustice of insisting on a fixed-date one-off exam for those students with a serious yet fluctuating health condition.

Ms X is either bright, alert and mentally competent, or she incapable of remembering a thing. Is a GCSE exam instituted to discover what she knows – or merely what she is capable of remembering on one specific date?

If only Mr Gove, Mr Johnson, Mr Balls – if only every education minister that has ignored the exam issue had some recognition of the condition… If one day they were woken by having live electrodes attached to their brain for 5 mins and then were punched hard in the face without means of defence or a gum-shield (causing considerable pain and disorientation, broken teeth, split lips, bitten  tongue) and then were asked to prove all their last two years of knowledge in an exam paper 2 hours afterwards, would they consider this to be a reasonable test of their own abilities?

I suspect not!