Whose results are they anyway?


If you’re in secondary education then the past week will probably have involved looking at some results of some kind. I’ve been thinking about results and ‘where’ they come from. Some of us are happy to say ‘it’s down to us’ (the teacher) or the results are the ‘school’s’ or even ‘it’s the child’ but is there any way of really finding what contributed to the mark the student achieved? 

I thought I’d list some of the innumerable variables that may affect a child’s exam performance and consequently their final grade:

  • how much work the student did at home
  • how much support from their parents/peers/family/friends did they have
  • if they had a private tutor
  • the reason they took the subject
  • financial incentives
  • sibling rivalry
  • illness on the day or years before the exam
  • use of online student forums
  • completion of homework
  • how many teachers they’ve had in that subject over time
  • how many minutes a week they had lessons in the subject
  • how frequently they had the lesson
  • when the lesson is on the timetable i.e Monday p1 or Friday p4
  • attendance
  • relationship with teacher
  • how many practice papers they did before the exam
  • size of class
  • attitude of class
  • behaviour of class
  • where they sat in class
  • the month of their birthday
  • the style of teaching*

So can we 100% confidently say why they got their grade?

If the answer is ‘no’, is judging a teacher on the results of their students a little unscientific and consequently basing their pay and/or their ‘Teaching & Learning’ grade on it a little dangerous?

And if we’re looking at the variables for exam performance, should teachers that have a % of non-written exam have different standards to meet?

And finally, can we compare same subject results with others?

* Please feel free to add more

2 thoughts on “Whose results are they anyway?

  1. I would add to your excellent list of pupil variables all the variables associated with the examining process: variation between markers and between marking teams within the usual ‘tolerance’ of three marks; exam board decisions on moderation, adjustment and conversion to UMS; ‘comparable outcomes’ decisions; changes in exam paper style and emphasis from year to year; differences between the various exam boards’ papers and processes; political influence on what is examined and how it is assessed; etc, etc. I always feel that once the candidate enters the exam room, the teacher’s impact becomes the least significant element of the outcome.

  2. Thanks Simon. Important additions. Your list is one that some teacher use when ‘blaming’ poor results but the interesting thing is that they are the most common variables for ALL students so possibly the least useful in diagnosis of variables. What I mean is if all candidates have the same paper and some do well and some do not, it cannot be the paper itself that as been a negative variable as some candidates have managed to achieve on that paper. This may well link back to the preparation aspect. If a student has not been prepared to expect ‘anything’ on the paper, then exam performance will suffer.

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