England – Recruiting for Year 12 and setting aspirational targets in 2020

18th August 2020

KS4 Results Day is usually packed with nervous anticipation, joyous celebration and, sadly for some, deep disappointment. In some ways, 20 August 2020 will be no different, whether conducted in school or electronically and remotely, as students access their results. However, it will still be, hopefully, unique as Year 11 2019-20 sat none of the examinations that led to these results. 

Thankfully, after the A Level debacle, the results will now be based on centre-assessed grades. 

Until Monday 17 August, a very different set of KS4 results looked set to be released. In July, Ofqual braced the nation for a significant downward standardisation of GCSE grades. Although they announced that GCSE results in England would be up by 1 per cent on 2019, they said schools and colleges had submitted ‘optimistic’ centre-assessed grades. 

The impact of awarding the centre-assessed grades was exemplified by Ofqual: 

  • At GCSE, 31.6% would have achieved grade 7 or above compared with 24.7% in 2019.  
  • At GCSE, 82.4% would have achieved grade 4 or above compared with 72.7% in 2019.
  • Based on centre-assessed grades, GCSE results would be up by 9 percentage points on 2019 

 On 15 August it was reliably estimated that, purely using Ofqual’s algorithm, around 4.6 million GCSE grades were to be downgraded with no reference to the actual centre-assessed grades. Then on 17 August, the flawed algorithm was at last awarded Grade U. 

 So, we can state categorically, that 2020 will be a record year nationally for high GCSE grades and indeed for many, many schools and the grade rises that Ofqual were desperately trying to avoid will have happened. 

Even as results are being issued on 20 August, schools and colleges throughout the land will be switching tack to finalising Post-16 recruitment and course selection. 

At the start of September, as the new cohort of students are welcomed into their school/college and introduced to their A Level / Vocational courses, the focus moves swiftly to aspirational target setting. 

This blog will focus on recruiting fairly and setting student targets fairly for the 2020 centre-assessed GCSE grade cohort. 


Course Selection 

Whatever your school or college’s overall entry requirements for L3 courses are, you will almost certainly have more students who are eligible to take them. Even those courses that require significantly higher subject-specific grades are likely to have many more suitably qualified applicants, having been awarded their results through their centre-assessed grades. 

It is also probable that, as the UK plunges into recession, there will be fewer apprenticeships and jobs with training to provide those young people with alternate pathways.

So, the very good news is that sixth forms in schools and colleges look set fair to be bigger than ever before perhaps with fewer of those extremely small and financially unviable sets in minority subjects.

The downside may be that the more marginal sixth form applicants may need much more pastoral and academic support and an effective transition period starting Day One in September to help them start to become sixth form students. In each subject, there may also be significant cohorts who need specialised support to start to grasp the skills they will be expected to develop and master over the next two years.

We would commend making sure students are given chances to be fairly assessed for course suitability in September, not to immediately trample their dreams down so soon after they have gained such good results, but to try your best not to have students following a course they seem most likely to fail.

Could some students be encouraged to take four options in September with the reassurance that discussions at the end of September would narrow their choices to three? 

Finally, we can be certain that, having lived through lockdown and with no formal schooling since March, many students may have experienced tragic loss, and many may be initially fearful about the safe return to full-time education. They will need reassurance, care and all the support you can provide. 


Aspirational Target Setting 

Alps Minimum Expected Grades (MEGs) are set at the 75th% encouraging our schools and colleges to base their target setting systems around the progress made by the top 25% of students with similar Prior Attainment nationally. There should be no thought that these MEGs represent ceilings and many of our schools and colleges set additional Personalised Targets adding further challenge. 

Our A Level MEGs are tabulated here. 

Our assumption is that most – if not all – schools and colleges will have some students starting Sixth Form who are in a higher Alps band based on their results on 20 August than they may have been if they had sat all their exams. 

This is both a challenge and an opportunity. These students have been rigorously assessed by teachers as having the ability to achieve those awarded grades and, with the right support and guidance, they can now be challenged to hit the heights on their L3 courses. 

 They must be encouraged to aspire, believe and achieve. 

 In our Alps Champions training course and webinars in 2019-20, we have been discussing using Alps MEGs sophisticatedly by encouraging teachers and students to additionally set Personalised targets that can be no lower than the original MEG. 

This is because in schools and colleges using Alps most effectively Post-16 it is relatively common for students to be challenged to do even better than the 75th% MEG, using Personalised Targets. Adding this additional challenge happens for a variety of reasons:  

  • How progress in a subject benchmark compares to the MEGs. What Alps grade would you achieve if all the students in your set / subject achieved their MEG?  
  • How to set a subject or set target which is aspirational enough to achieve a red Alps grade  
  • How to set each student a personalised target that challenges them to achieve their full potential 

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