Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing to express my dismay and utter frustration at the recent media announcement regarding changes to the 2014 KS4 Performance Tables. I have two main issues to which I require a response.
The first issue concerns the way in which I and other school leaders found out about your policy change....I have no idea how you can justify such important information reaching school leaders via the general media. The tone of some of the articles was appalling and I deeply object to quotes from you and other within the Department for Education stating that I and other school leaders are 'cheating' with regard to the examination system.
However, without question my main concerns relate to the timing of the announcement and the dreadful consequences it will have on our academy. I will try and explain because it is clear that your advisers have missed many key issues here.
Whilst I actually understand your reasoning behind what you are trying to do and would actually support some of the changes coming into effect for current Yea 10 students, the fact that you have decided that it must happen 'with immediate effect' will cause chaos within current Year 11 cohorts.
At King Alfred's our Year 11 students will be taking GCSE Mathematics in mid-November, as they have done for the past three years. The vast majority will have achieved their FFT D target grade and, as such, most will start additional Maths in preparation for starting AS Maths and Further Maths once they enter our sixth form. A small group will decide that based on their grade in November, they will continue with further GCSE Maths lessons in order to improve their grade so that they surpass their FFT D target grades. There will, of course, always be a small group of about 10-15 per cent who will be disappointed with their grade and will re-sit in June 2014.
We accept that a few of our students at King Alfred's will need a second attempt to get the C grade. However, there will also be another tiny group who will be our Pupil Premium students who, if they do not reach their C or target grade in November, will undergo the most intensive support programme between January and June to ensure their progression.
I have plenty of data from the past three years to prove that what we are doing works in every way. The number of students choosing AS and Further Maths within our sixth form has risen rapidly. Our AS/A2 and Further Maths courses are highly successful and well respected because our mathematicians have between January and September to prepare for the jump between GCSE an A Level. Our overall Maths results have risen dramatically in the past three years and we were expecting this would happen again this year.
Your press release and the associated reporting....do not consider any of the above. They simply assume that we all enter our students during Year 10 and bank the grade Cs. Whilst that may happen in some schools it does not happen in our academy. The DfE press release suggests that schools such as King Alfred's who have entered students for November exams "will have to think hard about whether they still think that is right for the pupil". We are only six weeks away from the examinations our students and staff have been working incredibly hard towards for two years. I find it offensive that you should suggest that at this stage of the course I could withdraw 300 students from an examination which is just weeks away.
I am now faced with a crisis. I will not withdraw the students because morally it is not right to do so. We believe the proven approach that we have adopted through strategically planning our curriculum over a number of years in in the best interest of our students. If that is "cheating" then so be it. However, I now have to accept that my 5 A-C including English and Maths results will plummet in the 2014 performance tables. This must be one of the most unfair and vindictive acts that I have witnessed in my career as a teacher by any Secretary of State for Education.
The consequences are clear. King Alfred's is currently an outstanding school as graded by Ofsted. We have just become a National Teaching School and a National Support School. You have appointed me as a National Leader of Education. We became Oxfordshire's first academy convertor in 2011 and are currently leading a local primary school which was in special measures but was recently judged as "Good" by Ofsted. The school is being led by one of my Assistant Headteachers. We have also, as of the 1 October, become England's first multi academy trust which brings together a non CE school and a CE school after 18 months of tough negotiation with all the stakeholders.
As such we feel we have embraced every challenge and "opportunity" that this government has offered, until now. I have to assume that our rapid drop in the performance tables when they are released in January 2015 will trigger an Ofsted inspection. This, in turn, based on the apparent drop in performance will probably lead to our outstanding grade being removed and with it 'the cards will tumble". We will not be a Teaching School or a National Support School and we will simply "build up the barricades" so that we can focus solely on ourselves. I find what you have done to be morally indefensible.
At best, I put this policy change down to poor advice and guidance from your advisors and, if that is the case, surely the only thing for you to do is explain that the recent leak does not in fact apply to current Year 11 students. Any other explanation would, as I have said, indicate a vindictive streak towards highly successful, hard-working schools who want nothing more than to do the very best for their students.
You will probably never get to read this letter, as I imagine it will be one amongst many that are intercepted by your aids who will, no doubt, write me a nice soothing reply. I will hold on to the hope that you will and await your personal reply to my very deep concerns for the future of our outstanding academy.
National Leader of Education
King Alfred's Academy