The power of the Grade

As a secondary school leader, the main driver is ensuring that all pupils achieve their predicted grades or exceed it. Ofsted judges the excellence of schools on the overall progress made by each child. As we sit in the month between the release of the IB DP grades and the teacher-assessed A-Level grades, it is good to ponder the power of the grade. You are probably thinking surely this is the best way to judge educational success, but is it? 

GCSE grade attainment

My eye was caught recently by an article in The Times, by Nicola Woolcock, about “youngsters who improved their grades earned on average over £200,000 more than those with lower grades… The Department for Education data was drawn up using comparisons of the GCSE results of two million teenagers between 2002 and 2005, with HM Revenue & Customs data on their later earnings.” As with all data and statistics, we have to exercise caution. Who knows if this is really due to GCSE grades or is due to other socio-economic factors? Fundamentally, taking the findings at face value, as a teacher, we know that success breeds success. Once a child is confident about their ability to improve they actually see improvement. 

Whilst training to become a teacher, I remember hearing that ‘every child needs a champion’, someone who is willing to encourage them, cheer them on and remind them of their potential. It stuck with me throughout my time in school and underpins my educational philosophy. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL accurately reminds us “Children who attain higher GCSE grades are obviously more likely to progress to higher education and well-paid jobs.” So, if the pressure on children and teachers is about jumping through hurdles, collecting the reward and moving onto the next challenge, it likens school to an obstacle race. The problem comes when at least a third of the children in our country trip up and are unable to get back into the race. Hope you don’t mind me extending the metaphor!

What’s the goal?

Coaching and empowering a child to take responsibility for their own learning is the goal. The value of a metacognitive toolkit and developing thinking skills is the foundation for lifelong learning. I know that goals and grades are important. All children that I have ever encountered want to be able to measure their achievement. They cling to grades, marks, comments, awards and percentages as tangible evidence of success. To rewire them and remove the goal is not my mission. Instead, let’s give them the best toolkit possible and teach them how to leap over obstacles or dust themselves off when they fall.

As the title of the Bananarama song says, ‘It Ain’t What you Do, but it’s the way that you do it.’ A brilliant guy called Steve Higgin, who is a professor up at Durham and carried out a meta analysis on what it is that makes the biggest difference to learners, labelled his findings the bananarama principle. It simply states that when it comes to both teaching and learning, it’s HOW you do it, not what you do, that gets the results. Our coaches know that skilful questioning, that puts children in the learning zone and encourages self-reflection, develops strong foundations.

Being reflective has a huge impact

The efficacy of teaching children to become reflective and engaged learners is that, on average, they do make more than seven months additional progress. Parents entrust us with their child’s senior school preparation because they want success and our approach is designed to support families and pupils throughout the process. Our central focus at Meta Prep, it’s even in our name, is about giving each pupil a repertoire of cognitive (thinking) tools and strategies. Weekly lessons prepare ‘meta-learners’. Equipping children with the capacity to understand themselves, reflect on their own learning and know how to make progress; whatever challenge they are set. This results in significant additional progress to previously predicted grades and develops a lifelong love of learning that enables children to thrive in the exams, their secondary schools and beyond. 

This summer all of our holiday courses are established on the foundations of metacognition and instilling the principles of self-reflection and self-evaluation. Join us to become an Expert Learner or find ways to improve your Maths Skills, and more. The five-day summer workshops, daily duration of 1.5 hours, are repeated weekly and open to pupils in Years 4, 5 & 6.