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Interpreting British Exam Results and What To Ask the School


9-4 (formerly A*-C) percentage - Anything at these levels is good enough to count towards 'can he take A level?' 

A*/A percentage - distinguishes the very selective schools where A*-C approaches 100%

The 'pass rate' - A*-G is pretty meaningless

A Levels

AS/A2: A/B percentage- You need these to get into a decent uni; again, the 'pass rate' is uninformative

INTERPRETING RESULTS (as best you can)(with comments from various headmasters asked the question)

This is what you need to ask the school:

1.) The first question is, who is allowed to take them? It is extremely difficult to divine this for an international school – they can give so many excuses for such a transient population. Are pupils allowed to take any exam they want to, whether or not the school thinks they are up to it? Do the scores include ESL (English as a Second Language) students? 

Does “90% of students” mean “9 out of all 10 students in the school, who all took the test” or does it mean “9 out of the 10 students who were allowed to take the test, because we wouldn’t let the other 70 students taking the course ruin our stats and make us look bad”?? 

2.) Have they anything to declare - any special circumstances (for example, the school burned down the day before the exam, and everyone had to take it in a tent?)

3.) Ask for a complete breakdown of exam results for the last three years, ie a complete list of subjects taken showing the number of pupils taking each subject and the number achieving each grade from A to U. If you are fobbed off with a 'summary' of results, be indignant and suspicious – they are asking you to trust them with your child, so why won’t they trust you to react sensibly to the results. Ask also which year group took the exams - make sure that retakes and early examinations are listed separately.

4.) With all this in front of you and a cold towel wrapped around your head, look to see where the weaknesses/strengths are to be found. Which are the popular and successful subjects? Is one subject pulling the overall results up? Or down? Or is 100 per cent A-grade pass in Norwegian translated as one pupil (with a Norwegian mother)?

5. How many pupils are taking exams over all? A school with a sixth form of 40 (three children doing each subject) should find it considerably easier to come up high on the league tables than larger schools. The larger the number taking any one subject, the more commendable when the results are strong, and the wider the scope for failure. (Watch out for sudden improvements, particularly of main stream subjects, and look warily at the numbers of candidates: if the number has halved from one year to the next, could it be that the school policy has been to force out the weaker candidates and so manipulate the results?)

What are SATS, and how much do they matter?

The British SATs**(Standard Attainment Tests or National Curriculum Assessments) are administered at the end of Key Stages 1, 2, and 3 (National Curriculum of England*) in UK schools, and are considered when league tables (school rankings) are being compiled, but don't lead to any formal qualification for the test-taker. Rather, they measure how well a school is doing in getting children to certain knowledge levels.

As of 2006, British schools overseas were no longer eligible to be part of the formal UK system whereby students took the same exams on the same day and then exams were sent to the UK for marking. Now the exams are sent out after the British students take the exams (a potentially compromising situation because theoretically a Year 6 pupil in Britain could email his cousin in Spain and tell him what was on the exam papers).

Also, the marking is no longer done as part of the official UK co-hort, so their results don’t appear in the overall statistics.  Schools may elect to mark internally, hiring their own markers who may or may not be qualified.  In other words, the results of overseas Keystage 1-3 SATS don’t mean as much as they used to (the exception is overseas Ministry of Defence Schools).

*We are frequently corrected by Headmasters on our references to the National Curriculum for England, either adding Wales or even assuring us that it's the "British National Curriculum". So we enjoy informing them that "and Wales" has been dropped from the title, according to Ofqual - and those who think there's a British curriculum should take a closer look at the completely different Scottish curriculum.  

**Not to be confused with the American SAT (university entrance exam).

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