The Civic Centre in Pontypool
The Civic Centre in Pontypool Credit: Cwmbran Life

A SECOND Gwent education committee has criticised data produced by the Welsh Government intended to show how schools performed in GCSE exams as “too complex”. 

Members of Torfaen Borough Council’s education scrutiny committee said the public would fail to understand the scoring system used for schools based on GCSE grades and other qualifications achieved by 15 and 16-year-olds in year 11. 

Committee chair Councillor Rose Seabourne complained: “If elected members don’t understand it how can they expect the public to understand it?” 

Last month councillors in Monmouthshire said the information presented to them on how schools had scored was “too complex and technical”. 

But Ed Price, of the Gwent Education Achievement Service that works with the county’s five councils and their schools, said the points system is intended to move away from judging schools based on how many A* to C grades are achieved. 

He said: “The old system had been hijacked in a way, particularly by the press, about what the C grade and above was, that was paramount.” 

Pupils still receive GCSE grades marked from U (which is unclassified) to A* but their schools are judged on points awarded for every GCSE grade achieved in a pupil’s nine best subjects. Vocational qualifications can also count towards the score. 

Known as the Capped Nine, grades must include those in English, mathematics and science, and Welsh for Welsh medium schools, and there is a difference of six points between each GCSE grade, so an A is worth 12 more points than a C. 

School scores are then judged against those of others in their “family of schools” grouped together across Wales on factors such as the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals and who live in the most deprived areas. 

Mr Price said it was an attempt to judge schools “in the fairest way possible” but acknowledged that is complex. 

“A league table of schools ranked in order would be the simplest way but we do not want to go there as it’s not fair to our schools or learners.” 

He added: “It’s not like America where you graduate from high school and get a points score yourself. Learners still get A/B/C.  

“This is about looking at schools holistically. A learner doesn’t know how many points they’ve got, why would they? They would know about grades.” 

Andrew Powles, the council’s director of education, said he believed the way the council has presented the scores is less complex than how it has been published by the Welsh Government. He also said the results at the end of year 11 the scores represent is just one “important” aspect of school performance but had to be “put in the context of everyday teaching and learning”. 

In response to Cllr Janet Jones, who asked why there was a negative 10 per cent difference in the number of pupils at Pontypool’s Ysgol Gymraeg Gwynllyw, achieving five or more passes at A* or A, against the average for its family of schools, Mr Powles said the figures are “so cohort specific”. 

He added schools and education officials discuss results at an individual level and said schools know their pupils and the issues they may have been facing leading up to exams 

He said: “I don’t really want to go into any more detail than that.” 

How did Torfaen schools perform at 2023 GCSE exams? 

On an all Wales basis of how many points at the Capped Nine schools are expected to achieve four Torfaen schools are above the modelled outcome line and two below. No schools are significantly above or below the modelled outcome. 

Mr Price suggested this showed a good balance between schools to the benefit of all learners. The system used by the Welsh Government means half of all schools in Wales will always be above the modelled outcome line and the other half below it. 

West Monmouth School, Pontypool had the highest score in the Capped Nine above its family. Its 371.3 score was a 25.1 points above its family average of 346.2. At West Monmouth 22.7 per cent of pupils get a free school meal. 

Abersychan, where 30.6 per cent of pupils are on free meals, finished 0.9 per cent above its family average, Cwmbran High, with 27.1 per cent on free school meals, was 10.4 above the family average, St Albans Roman Catholic in Pontypool was 9.1 points above its average and 11.2 per cent get free meals at the school while Ysgol Gwynllyw, where 11.7 per cent get free school meals, had a 10.5 per cent difference in its score against its family average. 

Croesyceiliog School, which has a 17.6 per cent free school meal rate, was 12.1 points below the average Capped Nine score of its family. 

Performance for each school is also broken down into the upper third “most talented and able” pupils, the middle third and lower third. 

Croesyceiliog was the only school to score below its family for results in the lower third while Gwynllyw’s results for the middle and upper third were below its family average and Abersychan was below the family average for results at the upper third. 

Abersychan was also the only school to score below its family average on literacy, at 2.5 points below which is around half a GCSE grade per learner. St Albans with a difference of 2.6 was the largest positive difference. Results in both Welsh and English contributed to Gwynllyw’s score. 

In numeracy West Monmouth was the only school of the six to score above its family average, with a difference of 3.7 points, and Abersychan’s 2.1 point was the biggest negative difference to its family average. 

Croesyceiliog and Gwynllyw both finished below their family averages in science. 

Only two schools had pupils leave without a single qualification and that was 0.4 per cent of pupils at Croesyceiliog and 1.7 per cent at Abersychan. 

West Monmouth and Cwmbran High both had a higher percentage of pupils achieving five or more A* or A grades than their family average. 

Torfaen’s Capped Nine score, based on the results of all six schools, was 362.1 against a Wales average of 358.1 but literacy, numeracy and science scores were all slightly below the Wales average but the council said the scores are “approximately in line with the Wales average”. 

The Capped Nine score for pupils entitled to free school meals in Torfaen is 8.1 points above the all Wales modelled expectation which is equivalent of approximately one seventh of a GCSE grade per learner. 

Torfaen hasn’t stated which of the families of schools its schools are placed in.