North East Colleges win bid to join Centre for Excellence

Three North East colleges have been chosen as part of a list of 20 colleges across the country which are joining WorldSkills UK Centre for Excellence.

Sunderland College, Middlesbrough College and East Durham College are set to join this project which is set to raise the bar for best practice. The centre has been set up to provide world-class standards for skills development. This has been facilitated by WorldSkills UK alongside NCFE who have provided £1.5 million to fund the project. 

Zoe Lewis, Principal at Middlesbrough College said: “We’ve been selected through a very rigorous process to be part of the WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence programme, one of only 20 colleges in the UK.

“This partnership will build on their strengths – enhancing teaching and curriculum innovation even further to give students a world-class skill set and mindset that will give them the edge in the jobs market and benefit their employers. 

“The goal is to ultimately give employers a more highly qualified and performing young workforce which will support higher business productivity.

“Technical skills aligned to employers’ needs are a key specialism of Middlesbrough College and this partnership will keep us at the forefront of the sector.”

Judith Quinn the Deputy Principal at Sunderland College was particularly excited to have been chosen as part of this: “The opportunity to further advance excellence within the technical education for students and staff within our college and wider North East is even more important at this time and as we build up to deliver T-Levels from 2021.”

Suzanne Duncan, principal at East Durham College said: “East Durham College has always been an innovative institution; this extends to our students, who we delight to see enjoy great success in a range of competitions at the cutting edge of their respective fields. This partnership is an exciting new opportunity to help us further cultivate the skills and talents of our students all in the hope that they may continue achieving recognition, and use that as a springboard for further success in their future.”

The hope is that these partnerships will further enhance the level of education that the attendees of the college will receive to become more in line with the standards shown across the World which will raise the employability of those who are receiving this education.

Failures over testing causing major issues for North East schools

Schools across the North East started the new term positively, with good attendance and students who are happy and keen to learn. School leaders have, so far, been able to maintain the confidence of students, parents and staff, however this is being threatened by extensive issues with the system for testing. Earlier this week Schools North East wrote to the Education Secretary asking him to take action to prevent schools from reaching a crisis point due to staff absences caused by the testing system. Schools North East has joined forces with national Head Teacher group WorthLess? in calling the Government to take action, which was also swiftly followed by other organisations across the sector. Read the original letter from WorthLess? here.

Schools North East’s letter was based on feedback from schools on the serious issues faced around testing and staff absence, with delays in testing causing unnecessary absences, which are affecting school operations. Staff who have required tests have faced a lack of available tests locally, with some being sent as far as York and Scotland, which are unfeasible distances to travel. Those seeking a postal test can be waiting up to a week for results. The allocation of 10 test kits for use in exceptional circumstances is not helpful for large settings and the provision would need to be significantly higher and based on school size to be of use.

These absences are causing significant further strain on schools, with difficulty arranging cover due to the formation of set ‘bubbles’ and cost and risks associated with bringing in supply staff who have potentially been in other schools. Our schools have worked incredibly hard to ensure a safe return for students and staff despite constantly changing and even contradictory guidance, however these issues are threatening the ability of our schools to remain open to all students. If this situation continues schools may be pushed to the point of cancelling classes and even closures. 

You can read the full statement sent to the Secretary of State for Education, North East MPs and the press here

Alongside our letter to the Education Secretary, Schools North East sent out a survey to schools to gain further insight on these issues and how the situation should be resolved. We had a resounding response with schools responding from all phases and areas of the region. 

A large majority of schools – almost 80% have not been able to access effective testing, citing delays and no local availability, with staff and students alike struggling to get tests. 

More than 75% of school leaders responding had suffered staffing shortages as a result of coronavirus and many expressed concern that staff capacity will only grow worse further into term as it becomes more likely that staff and students will develop colds with covid-like symptoms. Some had already resorted to using supply staff, while others were worried that absences were putting further strain on staff still in school. There was a consensus among the majority of respondents that the situation is unsustainable, and that even where cover can be provided and arranged, it is causing further disruption for students at a time when they most need stability and consistency. 

One key way to resolve the issue would be to have tests administered to staff in schools. Again almost 80% were in favour of this. Even amongst the less than 10% who disagreed, most felt strongly that they needed access to regular testing but that it would place further burden on schools to have this responsibility internally, and that priority for school staff as key workers would be preferable. 

It is overwhelmingly clear that action needs to be taken to avoid further school closures and ensure that schools are prioritised when it comes to testing. Alongside the call from Schools North East, other groups and organisations including WorthLess?, ASCL, NGA and NAHT have also called for the Government to take action. Furthermore NASWUT has suggested that legal action can be taken on the issue. The further local restrictions which have now come into force exacerbate the issue, with school leaders expressing their concern that the inability to access childcare provided by family members will result in even further staff absence. 

Schools North East will continue to work to represent your views to policymakers on this issue alongside other major concerns including next year’s exams and Ofsted. If you haven’t yet contributed to our survey, please click here to do so. 

Media Appearances:

Our Chair John Hardy was interviewed about the testing Look North on Wednesday 16th September – watch here. 

You can also catch our Vice Chair, Dame Nicola Stephenson speaking on the issue on ITV Tyne Tees tonight from 6pm. 

New network for special schools and AP is growing

Just before the summer break Schools North East made the exciting announcement that we would be launching a new network for School Business Professionals working in special schools and alternative provision, across the country. We were delighted to be commissioned by the Department for Education to deliver this, and pleased that we are able to drive this national network from the North East. 

The network aims to enhance the practice of SBPs, in order to raise the effectiveness of the schools, through networking, sharing of information and best practice, CPD and collaborative working. The network will also identify and drive efficiencies in these schools through evidence based practice engaging in case studies and research and help develop the powerful voice of SBPs in the sector engaging with decision and policy makers, think tanks and SEND and SBM networks throughout the country.

The network is already gathering pace and feeding into some national conversations around funding and SPBs have submitted bids for grants identified through the network.  

Two CPD events are planned in the coming weeks and a series of virtual network meetings have taken place to bring together SBPs working so hard to ensure their schools are well resourced to meet the needs of their pupils. 

The network is supported by an online community building up a library of knowledge, information and resources that will be available for years to come. 

Since the launch in July, there have been 130 School Business Professionals signed up to the National Network of Special Schools (NNoSS), from 65 areas throughout England representing special, AP and hospital schools; from primary, secondary and all through; maintained, independent, free schools and academies. NNoSS will be led by its members and is an opportunity for School Business Professionals to have their voice heard in the national debate.

If you are a School Business Professional working in a special school or alternative provision, now is the perfect opportunity to get involved in NNoSS from the outset, and help us build the network in a way that best serves you.

Find out more at https://www.nnoss.co.uk

You can also read a feature on NNoSS from Schools Week here

Gavin Williamson questioned by MPs on GCSE and A level grades

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson faced scrutiny this week over the awarding of exam grades this summer, as he went before the Education Select Committee on Wednesday. Much of the questioning focused on the relationship between Ofqual and the Department for Education, and whether or not Ofqual had acted truly independently of the Department. 

Throughout Gavin Williamson maintained that everyone involved in decisions around exam grades acted to prevent unfairness. He pointed towards the fact that all devolved governments, whatever party they were led by, had arrived at a similar decision to use an algorithm before later reverting to centre assessment grades. He rejected claims that the decision to use algorithms was a result of too much emphasis on standardisation to prevent grade inflation.

When asked why he rejected the recommendations from Ofqual, which preferenced holding exams either in the summer or September, the Secretary of State argued that it wasn’t viable to hold exams in the summer in light of the pandemic. He added that he feared a later exam series would be unfair on those from disadvantaged backgrounds, due to the extended period of absence from regular schooling caused by the lockdown.

While Gavin Williamson defended the actions of both Ofqual and DfE, especially in light of the extraordinary circumstances they were operating in, he did recognise that there had been operational problems, and he noted that the Department may have to look into different ways to operate.

Despite a lengthy sitting of the Education Select Committee, there was little revealed on the decision making process behind the awarding of exam grades. Little information was given as to why both the chief regulator at Ofqual and the permanent secretary at the DfE stood down.

Gavin Williamson argued that the scandal around grades this year had reinforced his view that students sitting exams was the fairest way to award grades, and that DfE is now working to ensure continuity in education and viable remote learning to prevent disadvantaged students from falling behind. However, further information on exams in 2021 has yet to be released.

Clarity on this is now urgently needed. This week Schools North East wrote to Gavin Williamson expressing the challenges and concerns schools currently have. The lack of a decision around exams, whether this be A levels, GCSEs, or SATs, is causing increasing frustration. We will continue to lobby the government to reach a decision on this, that takes into account the likelihood of local lockdowns as well as avoiding high stakes accountability system that does not appreciate the difficulties that the education sector has faced.

Positive return for North East schools

The return to school has been largely positive and successful for schools across the North East despite ongoing issues with the track and trace system and process for reporting to Public Health England. 

In feedback about the experience of returning to the new school year with significant extra measures in place due to the current circumstances, schools across the North East have reported a positive start for staff and students. While the media had widespread reports in advance of the new term around the anxiety that students and parents were feeling about the full opening of schools for the first time since March, it appears that most schools have had very good levels of attendance. 

Equally, despite extensive measures to allow for the full return from staggered starts, breaks and lunches, to use of facemasks and increased hygiene procedures, most schools have reported a really positive start to the school year. Feedback suggested that students are very happy to be back, that for many schools there had been no or few problems and that students have settled in well and are keen to learn.

Though some schools did acknowledge the extent of the learning loss due to lockdown, with students being significantly behind, this was anticipated due to the missed months of learning and lack of engagement with home learning that had been reported. While the Government has pledged a ‘catch up scheme’ involving tutoring, there are significant issues around this scheme which has been seen as a quick fix, and does not allow for schools to plan for ‘catch up’ in a way that is relevant to their context. 

While our schools have worked hard to ensure that everything was in place to facilitate a positive and successful return many feel let down by the system, with multiple reports of the difficulty of reporting cases to Public Health England. The requirement to report possible cases rather than confirmed ones has resulted in a time consuming process, exacerbated by huge issues with wait times. Equally, issues with test and trace have proved difficult for school leaders to navigate, creating further work and a drain on time, as well as delays which can have an impact on staffing. 

Finally a crucial aspect for many schools is the increased cost of measures taken to implement the guidance and ensure schools are safe, which is resulting in overstretched budgets, and means money has had to be reallocated, further damaging the experience of students. As funding has been a perennial issue, particularly for schools in disadvantaged areas, this further exacerbates a significant problem for many schools. 

Despite these problems, our school leaders and staff have taken the challenge to return to school with full opening in their stride and their hard work has ensured a successful start to the new year for students under very difficult circumstances. 

We want to know your story. Send us your story about the return to school to share in next week’s newsletter.

Schools North East lobbying work on exam fiasco

You may have seen some of our lobbying work over the summer around GCSE and A Level results, working to ensure the voice of North East schools was heard. Here is a roundup of all the work we did on the issue, and what we will be doing going forward into 2020-21 academic year. 

We engaged in extensive lobbying work over the summer around GCSE and A Level results. We were the first organisation to call on the government to honour CAGs in order to resolve the situation, to bring us in line with the rest of the UK. As part of this we also fought the negative narrative around ‘over inflated’ teacher assessed grades and called on the Government to trust the professional judgement of our teachers.  At the same time, we called for an inquiry into what occurred, a position many major education unions and associations have since followed. 

When the extent of issues became clear on A Level results day we conducted a survey which was sent to all North East Heads to collate the views of our region’s school leaders. Based on the responses to this and in consultation with our Trustees, Schools North East issued a statement calling on the Government to take very specific actions to resolve the situation. The statement was sent to the Secretary of State for Education, North East MPs and the press. This called for the Government to honour CAGS, to halt university decisions until appeals could be made and urgently enter into dialogue with schools and Ofqual to modify the algorithm and moderation process, ensuring that GCSE results would not be affected in the same way. 

We understood that there was no easy way to resolve the situation. Not everyone was in favour of honouring CAGs however, due to the exceptional circumstances it was felt that this would be the quickest, most practical and effective response to ensure that the futures of our students were not adversely affected.

When the government announced that it would honour CAGs the following week, we issued a subsequent statement: Government confirms acceptance of Centre Assessment Grades for A Levels and GCSE. This highlighted the need for an inquiry into what happened, as well as a call for clarification on next year’s exams and the need for reform of the exam system in consultation with the teaching profession. 

Even though the new academic year has begun,the government has still failed to outline its plans for exams in 2021. We will continue to push for urgent clarification on this and the many practical, operational challenges that it is causing for school leaders. The issues that we saw around exam results this summer, including Ofqual’s algorithm, are not confined to the pandemic but part of pre-existing problems inherent in the high-stakes exam system. It is crucial that we use the lessons of the pandemic to push for the fundamental reform of an exam system which unfairly impacts on schools in region’s like the North East and, in particular, on disadvantaged students. 

If you have any issues you would like to raise on this issue please let us know by emailing policy@schoolsnortheast.com, and keep an eye out for how to get involved and feed back on this in the coming weeks. 

Department for Education questioned by MPs

Questions for the Department for Education took place in the House of Commons on Monday, covering a range of issues such as school finances, the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, the awarding of exam grades, as well as questions around higher education.

The Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, reassured the House of Commons that the department was doing everything in its power to ensure schools could open safely, and that schools are able to put in place measures that will effectively reduce risks.

Nick Gibb, the Minister for School Standards, was asked to give his assessment on the examination system. In response, he said that ‘exams are the best and fairest way of judging students’ performance’, expressing his determination that exams would go ahead next year.

The scandal around the awarding of exams over summer highlighted the flaws in the examination system. Earlier during the lockdown we held a virtual roundtable with Ofqual around a decision for exams in this academic year. Exam reform at secondary and primary is now a key focus for us, which must involve far more effective communication between Ofqual, the DfE, and Government with our schools and teaching staff.

Nick Gibb was also asked by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah about what financial support schools will receive to deal with costs incurred during the lockdown. She noted that schools in her constituency have had to alter classrooms, buy extra cleaning products, and increase cleaning rotas, all at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds. Nick Gibb defended the government by pointing towards the funding increases announced last year, but noted that the priority for funding would be on catch-up.

Gavin Williamson reiterated this focus on catch-up when asked about the disadvantage gap, pointing towards the national tutoring programme. While funding to support schools in addressing the disadvantage gap are welcome, it is not yet clear how effective the government plans will be. 

During our regular roundtable discussions with school leaders in the North East, it is clear that little information has been provided on how the tutoring scheme will work, and urgent clarification is also required on how Ofsted will assess how schools use catch-up funding. This lack of communication from central government is creating significant confusion and anxiety for schools. There are also concerns in the region about whether or not catch-up funding will be enough to address the learning gap, and whether or not there is capacity to support the tutoring scheme.

On top of this, the issue of funding to cover the expenses incurred as a result of the coronavirus is increasingly coming up as a matter of concern in our roundtables. The Government needs to work urgently with the sector to ensure the financial stability of all stages, from early years to further education.

It is now crucial that the Department for Education works quickly and with the education profession, to avoid repeats of the scandal around exams over the summer, to ensure schools are able to effectively prepare for what is likely to be an unusual year. This includes financial support, a decision on exams next year (for GCSEs, A Levels, and SATs), and a constructive approach from Ofsted for inspections.

Kenton School Stays Safe

Bubbles, portable sinks and sanitising stations are just a few things that Kenton School has implemented to ensure that their opening for the new term is a successful one.

Speaking to the Chronicle Assistant Principal Claire Gibson said: “We’re trying to make it a welcoming environment, especially for the year 7s who may be walking in for the very first time.” 

With 1800 children coming back to the school preparation was vital and they have been thorough. Sanitising stations and portable sinks have been installed in the halls and social distancing signage is up all around the school. 

Year groups have become “bubbles” which are not allowed to mix. Each bubble has their own blocks of classrooms, their own stretch of yard and different entrance and exit points which have been colour coded for each “bubble” to minimise any risk that there could be through mixing outside of year groups. A fun and effective measure which the school has taken is handing out branded Kenton School masks which the pupils are required to wear, giving students a greater sense of school identity and ensuring they have facemasks. 

Hygiene is a real focus with portable sinks, automatic hand sanitiser machines installed, and posters about how to spot Covid-19 symptoms and hand washing displayed around the school. Staff have even recorded demonstration videos to help students understand how to properly wash their hands. 

While the school hopes to remain open, plans are in place to ensure that if students are required to self isolate or the school is closed, learning can be accessible online. 

Kenton School is just one of the many schools in the North-East who have done their utmost to ensure that the children who are returning to schools can do so in a safe manner. If you would like to share how your return to school has gone in the Schools North East newsletter, send us your story.

Rise in grades hides widespread downgrading

A Level Results Day has been stressful and fraught for many students and school staff, especially in the NE region, as around 40% of results are downgraded, and a last minute announcement on the ability to use mock exam grades highlights an unfair and flawed system which has lacked proper consultation or joined-up thinking.

This has been a uniquely difficult year, and there is no simple way to approach a fair and balanced assessment process due to the many complex issues around it.  However, Ministers, Ofqual and the Department for Education have failed to develop a process underpinned by teacher expertise or evidence. The process implemented has huge discrepancies and seems inherently distrustful of the teaching profession, as well as being widely perceived as not reflecting the grades our students deserved. 

There have been widespread complaints from unions and educational organisations including ASCL, the NEU, the Social Mobility Commission and MPs. The Social Mobility Commission is calling for whole school appeals, as the appeals process itself is vague and heavily focused on revising individual student grades in accordance with mock exam results. 

The implications for students are potentially very serious, and while the Government has insisted that universities show discretion in awarding places where students have not achieved predicted grades, and that moderated results and mock exams can be used in appeals, stories  are emerging of downgraded students losing university places. 

A Level Results 2020 – negative impact on the most disadvantaged students

Although results have improved across the country with A*-C and top grades seeing an increase, this headline appears to be masking the issues of widespread downgrading, with many schools in the NE, and beyond, reporting results that are worse than their historical performance and long term trends. 

In the North East specifically, we have seen smaller grade increases than other regions. For top grades, the North East is ranked 7th out of the 9 English regions, the same as last year, while for A*-C grades, the North East has seen the smallest increase (1.7%), and has fallen from second highest in 2019 to fifth this year. Positively, these results still continue a trend of improvement for the North East which has seen increases in top grades since 2015. 

Despite this, there is still a clear North/South divide in results, as has been seen in the past, and there is not yet a clear indication of how badly disadvantaged students and schools in deprived areas have been affected. Ofqual has admitted that students with ‘low socio-economic status’ have been downgraded more than their counterparts, but suggests that this will not impact the disadvantage gap. 

This morning’s Ofqual report highlights that at grade C and above students from the lowest socio-economic groups saw their teacher’s grades downgraded by 10.4 percentage points (pp), whereas students of medium and high socio-economic groups saw downgrades of 9.5pp and 8.3pp respectively.

The report also shows that while all groups saw a rise in grades, those with high socio-economic status saw a rise in the top grades (A*-A). It also appears that students in low-socioeconomic groups have been downgraded more despite the increase in top grades. 

Early indications appear to show a big rise in top grades for independent schools, highlighting that this could have a significant detrimental impact on disadvantaged students in regard to destinations post-A levels. Feedback from the North East indicates that some of the top North East state schools have seen a flattening of their grades, as well as schools experiencing downgrading to U grades on a scale which has not been seen before, putting them behind their historical achievement levels. 

There is also a very real risk of huge disparities nationally, as Scotland’s u-turn on moderation saw teacher assessed grades awarded, while Wales has guaranteed that no-one will receive lower grades than they did at AS, meaning that there is no consistency in approach across the UK. 

Moderation vs Teacher Assessment 

Research from FFT Datalab earlier this year suggested that teacher grades submitted for GCSEs were more optimistic when aligned with last year’s results by schools. Given that teachers were asked to use a range of evidence, from mock exams to written work, this is unsurprising, as it takes into account a broader range of student performance than a single final exam does. This highlights the incredibly difficult job which has been required of our teachers to, not only estimate grades which might have been achieved, but also to rank pupils in each subject, with no training and very little timely official guidance. 

The moderation process has been conducted by an algorithm which supposedly took into account past student performance and historical school performance. It has been widely reported that 40% of students have been downgraded under this system, with no clear indications of how historical performance has been taken into account.

Maura Regan, CEO of Bishop Hogarth Trust and Trustee of Schools North East said ‘It is extremely disappointing that centre assessments have not been accepted but rather a moderation process has taken place based on a statistical model and which therefore does not fulfil the commitment that children will get the grade they deserve.’

Ultimately, this was an opportunity to place trust in the professional judgement of our teaching practitioners. The Department for Education and Ofqual have failed to work in collaboration with those at the chalkface who know their students, and instead have implemented a top-down, statistically led system which shows a serious lack of trust in the teaching profession, and has equally shaken confidence in the ability of the government to offer a fair exams system. 

Use of mock exam grades

In Scotland the moderation process resulted in a quarter of all grades being downgraded, disproportionately affecting disadvantaged areas. It was confirmed earlier this week that the teacher proposed grades would be honoured in response to criticisms of the system. 

In a last minute response to this, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that students could appeal their results and have schools submit mock examination grades, which would be accepted in equal weight to either teacher moderated grades or ‘resits’ in Autumn. This has been widely criticised by Head Teachers as a last minute arrangement, announced without consultation. There is huge disparity and inconsistency in how mock exams are held, and it cannot be guaranteed that all schools held mocks under exam conditions, or even at all prior to ‘lockdown’. For those that did hold mocks earlier – with some happening at the end of the first year, this does not take into account extra periods of time learning and that students will possibly not approach these exams with the same effort as their final assessments and so grades are likely to be lower anyway. Schools that did hold mocks are also likely to have taken these into consideration when submitting their teacher assessed grades. 

This eleventh hour change to the process was not based in consultation or evidence and has further complicated an already fraught and complex process. While it may help some students who have been significantly downgraded, it is not a fair or accurate assessment of what grades students truly deserved and risks adding insult to injury in regards to the hard work of school staff in producing accurate, internally moderated centre assessed grades. 

Response from North East schools

In a year which has seen huge challenges for our school leaders and staff, as well as our students and their families, the approach to A Level results from the government has been resoundly disappointing and does not reflect the incredibly hard work of our teachers, or our students during this difficult time. Schools North East is committed to helping our schools and students get the recognition they deserve, lobbying for a fair and balanced system which does not leave the North East unfairly penalised. 

We know that schools who have seen what they see as unfair and significant downgrading are seeking to raise this issue with the Department for Education and exam boards. Any schools who wish to do so will have our full support. As your network, we will work to coordinate this effort and amplify your voice as much as we can. If you would like to share your story confidentially with Schools North East let us know by emailing policy@schoolsnortheast.com

The issues that have arisen this year come from a system which already had huge discrepancies and inaccuracies, which disproportionately impacted upon disadvantaged students. Schools North East is  committed to calling for fair examination and assessment systems though our Manifesto for North East Education, and this year’s exam season has highlighted just how important this is. 

We want to know your thoughts on how we can respond to this situation. Please fill in our short survey to help determine the action that we will take on behalf of North East Schools.

A Level Results School Stories 2020

This year and this A Level results day have been more challenging than ever before. Schools North East want to congratulate all of our students and schools for their hard work this year.

Here are some of the school stories from the North East:

St Bede’s Catholic School & Byron Sixth Form College

St Bede’s and Byron 6th Form College are extremely proud of our students who have endured and overcome a very challenging period in their lives. We are delighted that their hard work and commitment has been duly rewarded and feel they are fully justified in receiving the truly excellent results awarded today.

St Bede’s has a 100% pass rate, with 28% of A level grades at A-A*  and 87% at A-C with an average grade of a B. Vocational subjects were all awarded a Distinction star or Distinction with the exception of two merits. Many of our students are now able to  progress onto highly competitive courses at some of the top Universities. 

Excellence in specialist 6th form teaching and individually tailored support has secured the future ambitions of our students ,who rightly refuse to be defined by this pandemic. We wish all of our students the very best of luck and congratulate them on achieving the superb grades we believe they are entitled to receive.

Pupils of notable success are
Holly Mason A*, A*,A studying History at Durham University
Grace Hunt A*, A*,A studying Engineering at Sheffield University
Ben Tilley A*,A,A studying Physics
Chelsi Cleet Distinction Star, Distinction, Distinction studying Business and Finance at Northumbria University.   

Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust

Today students in our four secondary schools received their A Level and BTEC results.

We are absolutely delighted for our students in doing so well across our secondary schools. It has been a year like no other. Students have faced huge uncertainty since March and have had to manage the pressure of a disrupted final term.

It’s a tribute to the dedication and resilience of our students that their ongoing hard-work across the academic terms has resulted in them being able to achieve such good A-level results under difficult circumstances. These grades will allow our students to make the next big choice in their lives, of further study at university or of taking a more vocational route into work.

These positive results are also a tribute to the supportive community ethos we engender across all our schools. The first cohort of students from St. Aidan’s Catholic Academy and St. Anthony’s Girls’ Catholic Academy to study as one sixth form for the duration of their course saw more than half achieving A*-B grades. Meanwhile St. Wilfrid’s RC College in South Shields has continued to build on its strong record of success and we are thrilled that St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Hebburn achieved its best ever set of A level results. Our partner school, St. Bede’s Catholic Comprehensive and Byron Sixth Form College in Peterlee, soon to join the trust, achieved a fantastic 100% pass rate.

Our staff have risen to the challenge during this difficult period and will continue to support students in the coming weeks, particularly any detrimentally affected by the system put in place for this year, by assisting them through the appeals process.

Durham Sixth Form Centre

Students at Durham Sixth Form Centre are celebrating success today following the publication of results, marking yet another year of excellent academic and personal achievements. 

This includes a 100% A-Level pass rate, with the average A-level grade of a grade B- and almost 60% of A Level entries being awarded a grade A*-B.  

Vocational results are very strong, too, with over 97% of students achieving Distinction* or Distinction grades.

Mrs Ellen Beveridge, Headteacher, commented: 

“This has been a very strange year for us all, however, it is important at this time of uncertainty that we do not allow the wider situation to overshadow the exceptional successes of our students at the end of their two year courses. I am incredibly proud of our Year 13 students, and the resilience that they have shown throughout this period. Whilst I am disappointed that their time at Durham Sixth Form Centre was cut short, on behalf of staff and governors, I wish them every success and happiness for their futures. These successes have enabled students to take up their places at university, including some of the top universities; on prestigious school leaver programmes; or on higher-level apprenticeships.” 

Amongst the many Durham Sixth Form Centre students celebrating outstanding results today are:

  • Don Brookes

Results: A*, A*, A*, A*

Subjects: Law, Politics, Psychology, EPQ

Previous School: Oxclose Community Academy 

  • Emy Bridges

Results: A*, A*, A

Subjects: History, Law, Literature 

Previous school: The Academy at Shotton Hall

  • Josh Burdett

Results: A*, A*, A*, A

Subjects: Economics, Mathematics, Physics, Biology 

Previous school; Whitworth Park Academy 

  • Rosie Elvidge

Results: A*, A*, A*

Subjects: Classical Civilisation, Literature, Religious Studies

Previous school: Greenfield Community College

  • Bailey Hodge

Results: A*, A*, A*

Subjects: Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics

Previous school: Tanfield School 

  • Rachel Ivory

Results: A*, A, A, A

Subjects: Psychology, Law, Sociology, EPQ

Previous school: Durham Johnston 

  • Anya Thompson

Results: A*, A*, A

Subjects: Geography, Law, Literature

Previous school: Parkside Academy 

Ponteland High School

This year we want to pay tribute to our wonderful Y13 cohort whose last year with us has been so blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in school closures since mid-March and the cancellation of public exams; this was not the way we would have wished them to finish their five years with us. They have been fantastic ambassadors during their time with us and have added greatly to our school community and culture. They have been excellent role models for our younger students particularly this year when we welcomed Y7 and Y8 into our school. 

We know that this year group was set to have a brilliant year and predicted to achieve better than any previous cohort; it is so disappointing that they were not able to do just that by sitting their exams and proving this beyond any doubt. In putting together Centre Assessment Grades (CAGs) and rank orders, staff were well aware of how well we expected this year group to perform and this was reflected in the data submitted to the various exam boards. 

Staff worked diligently and professionally to provide CAGs and rank orders that would do justice to our students and reflect the outcomes we felt confident in predicting for them. This process has been understandably time consuming and has included many professional conversations between colleagues before grades and rank orders were finalised and submitted to exam boards by senior leaders. 

The overall picture this year for the school is in line with previous years with 25% of all grades awarded A*-A or equivalent; 50% A*-B and 70% A*-C. On one hand this is welcome but it also means that the national standardisation process has failed to take account of the strengths of this particular cohort. Our experience has been that where individual subjects have had small cohorts there has been little or no change to the CAGs submitted by the school whereas subjects with more than 6 students have experienced changes, often significant changes. In larger subject cohorts we are left with the feeling that CAGs were simply ignored with final grades being awarded based on a statistical model that considered the rank order and not the CAGs. 

The late decision to include Mock Exam grades within the appeal system is bizarre but will be welcomed by a number of our students as approximately 55% of them will see an increase in at least one subject grade, assuming that the appeal system, as yet unclear, affords them this reprieve. The concern about using Mock Exams is that they are conducted in very different ways across schools. For example, some schools have 2-3 Mock Exams in Y13; some have open book Mock Exams; some have external invigilators, some don’t; some have strict exam conditions, some don’t. To suggest that these grades are somehow more relevant than the CAGs that have been submitted is an affront to schools. 

We know that many of our Y13 students will be celebrating today, deservedly so, but these celebrations will also be tempered by concern for their fellow students who may have to deal with some initial disappointment. We know that they will all overcome any obstacles in their path and go on to achieve great things. We wish them well in their future careers and lives.

Royal Grammar School, Newcastle

Like their peers across the country, Upper Sixth Form students at Newcastle Royal Grammar School received their A Level results earlier today.  As in previous years, students have achieved outstanding results, outstripping both local and national averages. 

85.0%1 of grades were A*-B and 28.2%2 of grades were A*. 

Of the 167 Upper Sixth students entered for A Levels this year, a staggering 65 students achieved all A* and As, narrowly surpassing the success of their 2019 predecessors (64 students). 14 of these students gained a full set of A*s, again surpassing their 2019 predecessors (12 students). 

In particular, we are immensely proud of the 15 means-tested bursary holders, who this year collectively secured 49 A Levels across 17 different subjects.  Five of these students secured all A*-As, with one securing four A*s.  Means tested bursary students, who represent 5% of the RGS student population, are all exceptional young people, from families who would not be able to attend the school without the philanthropic support of benefactors. 

The stats above, do not account for any adjustments still to be made, where published exam results will be increased to meet mock exam grades, as announced by the Government on 12th August 2020. 

These A Level results continue the school’s outstanding trend that has seen RGS Newcastle consistently ranked 1st in the Sunday Times’ top independent schools in the North of England. 

Geoffrey Stanford, Headmaster, said:  

While there have been understandable nerves about this year’s A Level results, particularly following the government’s announcement on Monday, overall our have students received grades which reflect RGS’s continued exceptional results, sustained over previous years. 

We had high expectations for this particular cohort, who broke all RGS results records when they sat GCSE’s two years ago.  Given the strength of these students, there will undoubtedly be some who are disappointed with their Centre Assessed Grades being adjusted due to this year’s unique calculations. We have been looking closely at both the aggregate results and individual circumstances where appeals may be justified and will do our best to ensure that our students have not been unfairly disadvantaged. However, overall our students should be immensely proud of what they have achieved and we wish them the best of luck for the future.”  

UTC South Durham

Sixth Form students at UTC South Durham celebrated their A-level results on Thursday 20th August 2020. All students passed their A-levels and equivalent qualifications, and every student has secured or is in the process of securing employment, an apprenticeship (higher or degree), or a place of university.

Principal Tom Dower said: ‘We are delighted for all our students and wish to congratulate them on their results. The results are testimony to the hard work of our exceptional students and commitment of our teaching staff.
This year has been difficult for many of us, but particularly for students in Year 13 who have faced a great deal of uncertainty with regards to their education and future. We are incredibly proud of their academic achievements, but also of them as the confident and driven young professionals we have seen them become.’

A number of students have secured apprenticeships with companies based in the North East, including Joe Allen and Oliver Trowell who are joining civil engineering company Costain, Stephen Henry is now working with BTS Fabrications, and Will Barker has joining Teescraft Engineering as an engineer in quality.

Kirsten Parr, who studied Maths, Further Maths, and Physics, is due to start a degree apprenticeship with accounting firm Ernst Young in Newcastle, and Felicity Nkomo is due to start with international design company Hanson as a degree level design apprentice. Other students are have secured employment further afield, including Finn Trewhitt who is working as an Installation Engineer in Italy.

All students who applied to university were successful and all are going to study STEM degrees: Jack Clarke is going to study Engineering at York University, Tom Shepherd is heading to Loughborough to study Product Design Engineering, Ben Miller and Sam Hall have secured places at Northumbria to study Mechanical Engineering and Foundation Engineering respectively.

This year, as exams were cancelled because of the pandemic, students’ grades were based on teacher assessments, supported with evidence of their work which was submitted to the exam boards.