Mark Emmerson, principal at City Academy, Hackney, shares his experiences of this year's GCSE results day...
This year we’ve had our best results ever – 83% getting A-Cs with maths and English. 42% of our exams were graded at A and A*, and 42% of our students have at least three As and A*s, which are the best results we’ve seen at the top end as well.
That comes on the back of a very good first set of A level results, so we’re very pleased. For this local area, we’re at something of disadvantage in that our average level of entry at Y7 is well below the national average, but in the last two years we’ve been in the top five schools in the country for student progress.
Our A-C results were 72% last year, so with the 83% this year, I’d say it’s a reasonable expectation that that’s still the case, given that nationally, results have fallen slightly.
That said, our results were actually slightly below what we were aiming for. Our target was 85% 5 A-Cs with English and maths, so we set ourselves really high expectations. If you look at the students on entry, in a typical school you could expect that figure to be about about 45%.
My ultimate aim for the school is that we achieve 90%. Our current target is 5% off where I want us to be, and this year we achieved below that. I’m always looking out for the students who don’t quite get there, so for me, results day inevitably brings a certain level of disappointment; you’re always going to have groups of students who almost, but don’t quite, get get over the line.
However, overall I’m pretty satisfied that we’re moving in the right direction, upwards towards that 90% figure – which I think is achievable for all students, in all circumstances.
One of the key things about the school is that we have very high expectations for the students. We do academic subjects, but we don’t tailor the curriculum down do just a core of five for the sake of accountability measures; we actually teach a whole range of subjects.
We teach around 90% of students languages, for example – from a base where a large proportion are coming into year 7 with grades below national curriculum level 2.
When we set up the school eight years ago, our aim was to have all students studying eight good, solid GCSEs and that’s what we’ve done ever since. Most study more than that, usually nine or 10, but from day one they’ve all studied the EBacc curriculum, so we’ve made no change to our curriculum in response to Progress 8.
Based on last year’s averages, we expect our Progress 8 figure to be well over 1, which would mean students are getting more than one grade better across eight subjects compared with the national average.
I see similarities between what we do and training to be an Olympic athlete, around which there’s been lots of talk lately about ‘marginal gains’ and how they made sure they were the best they could be. That’s what we concentrate on – that in every aspect of what we do there are high expectations.
There’s no magic bullet – it’s just a case of working hard to maintain a high level of quality in every aspect of the school. We concentrate on what we’re doing for our students, rather than on what the government and other local schools are doing and just get on with being the best we can be.
In the playground this year I heard lots of shrieking because the students got great grades. Ultimately, they knew that they’d worked hard, and were very thankful. I spoke to a girl who received a really good, solid set of results; from a position of maybe two years ago, we actually doubted whether she’d get anything.
For me, as a principal, it’s all about getting as many students as possible at the bottom end through, as well as ensuring that we get the yearly top grades. We don’t want to be in a position where we think a student hasn’t achieved the best they possibly can.
Student voice -– Matteo
When I opened my results, I was ecstatic. The first thing I saw was biology with an A* next to it, and immediately I was so, so happy. I had struggled to understand the whole unit, I found it difficult to commit the terms I needed to know to memory, and in the exam itself there were questions I found hard and thought I hadn’t done well on.
Overall, I got 11 A*s and two As. That means I’m able to do what I planned next year, which is go to Camden Sixth Form to do maths, English and history A level. I’ve no idea what I want to do in the future, so I just picked the subjects that I enjoyed the most – though I do feel the subjects I’ve chosen have kept my options open in relation to university, which I know want to go on to.
There was a real mood of relief – everyone seemed happy with their results. There were maybe one or two that had a couple of GCSEs that didn’t go to plan, but I don’t know anyone who didn’t get what they needed to get to sixth form.