Exam results days make parents and pupils alike a bundle of nerves, filled with anticipation. But it’s also us teachers who are on tenterhooks. We too spend a restless night and an early morning, anxiously waiting to see how our pupils react to their results, and wondering how we measure up against other local schools, and how our region has performed overall.
At Kings Monkton, this year 70% of our GCSE pupils achieved at least one A* or A grade, and overall we achieved 52% A* to A grades; an increase on our result from 2015 which saw the highest A*-A grades of all schools in Wales. As an independent school leader, it’s crucial to remain competitive, so once the celebrations and congratulations subside I always take a look at Wales as a whole, and how results here compare with the rest of the UK.
Just last summer, the gap between Wales and the rest of the UK in terms of top results had widened. While Welsh schools maintained a respectable 66.6% A* to C pass rate, it was noted that this fell some way behind the UK’s overall 69%.
And this year, GCSE results day revealed the A* to C pass rate has stayed at 66.6% in Wales for a third consecutive year. While some might think that’s an indicator that the Welsh education system has reached its peak, in reality there’s a lot more to it.
While results in England have now dropped, Wales has held a steady course. The results for 2016 show that results across Wales are now the same as England as a whole and in fact, better than most of its regions. In Wales this year, top A* and A passes were up by 0.2% to 19.4%, a better result than northern and midland English regions, areas that outperformed Wales last year. Wales has also seen a slight increase in the percentage of the very top A* grades, up 0.1% to 6.1%.
These changes may seem small, but they are significant. For independent schools, cultivating our own curriculum means we can meet the needs of all our learners and nurture their individual talents, but times are indeed tough in the education sector. State schools in particular are having to contend with curriculum changes, teacher recruitment shortages, and often impractical targets. In the face of this schools in Wales, albeit marginally, have proved they are upping the ante and levelling the playing field.
It’s a shame that this year will be the last that GCSE results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be directly comparable. Wide-ranging reform to qualifications in Wales and other parts of the UK will be introduced next summer meaning that courses will differ, and while pupils in England will achieve grades from 1-9 from next year, students in Wales will still be awarded the traditional A*-G grades.
All this means it’ll inevitably be more challenging for schools in Wales to prove their worth when held up against their English counterparts. However, Wales is a fantastic place to live and learn and it’s clear that plenty of state and private schools here are focussed on developing a lifelong passion for learning and a desire in youngsters to innovate, develop and fulfil their potential.
Paul Norton is Principal of Kings Monkton School in Cardiff.