Can every student get 5A*-C including English and Maths?

The following thought experiment was posed:

I did not feel able to respond fully on Twitter so I will respond here. I asked whether students in mainstream schools who should not be were included and he said yes.

I will give examples of pupils I believe could not pass Maths even if a million pounds was spent on them and describe them and their needs.

I will start with one of my favorite students,


Evan arrived at the school with a level of 1b. He can currently, with support add and subtract if there is no carrying or borrowing required. He gets questions right if he uses counters. He gets questions right half the time if he tries to do any part of the question mentally.  His reading age is about 5. His writing is illegible. His short term memory is virtually non-existent. If taught something he cannot do a homework on it or remember it next lesson.

I would argue that there are huge social benefits from him being in mainstream but I would not say he is included because he cannot access the work the rest of the class are doing the vast majority of the time. He also has a very limited attention span so despite his best efforts (and I genuinely believe he does his best in most lessons) little work gets done even with one to one support from his TA.


Mike is a delightful boy most of the time. He can’t read though. He knows his alphabet and his numbers. He can copy. He loves copying. He is a pleasure to work with when he’s happy…

When he isn’t he hits, kicks, spits, swears, shouts and finally removes his trousers. He arrived  in the school on p-levels. On p-levels he remains in every subject apart from 1. MFL- because he speaks his own language fluently he may get a GCSE in it.

Despite his complete lack of understanding of social conventions and his behavior he is hugely popular with other pupils and most staff. This is why he remains in the school.

His mother speaks no English and is illiterate in her own language. His dad has never been seen by any member of staff. Support from home is thus severely limited.

He is withdrawn from humanities twice every fortnight to get one to one lessons in Maths and Life Skills from me. I recently taught him how to buy something from a shop. After 4 attempts he managed to pay for something, get his change and leave the shop with the packet of crisps. I salute the patience of the shopkeeper.

His special needs pose a significant barrier to his learning but so does the amount of time he spends out of lessons running around with no trousers on.

There is an even more extreme example but I need to sleep so I may add my description of her tomorrow.

If the Maths GCSE were a pass/fail test of numeracy then they MIGHT be able to pass eventually (although I doubt it. If it were competency based then perhaps. It isn’t. In the current Maths GCSE the grade boundaries are set so that a certain percentage of students pass. These students will always be in the bottom 10% and so will not pass.

This is the key point. If you took a particular past paper then most pupils given a million pounds being spent on them could be taught to pass that exam provided the grade boundaries did not change. Under the current system if everyone did better the grade boundaries would increase. I’m not sure what would happen if everyone taking a GCSE got 100% but barring that eventuality I don’t think GCSEs are examined or marked in a way that allows for the possibility of everyone passing.

Without reform of the way Maths is examined there is no possibility of all students passing Maths. I feel less confident talking about these students ability to pass other subjects so I won’t beyond saying that unless these pupils improve their reading and vocabulary significantly they have no chance.


4 thoughts on “Can every student get 5A*-C including English and Maths?

  1. Rose

    The original post did specify every mainstream student. The children you describe may be in a mainstream school but I don’t think they could be described as mainstream children since they receive significant additional support for their clear SEN. They would not be entered for GCSE and would have been disapplied from Y6 tests.

    I agree that not every child can get 5 A*-C regardless of money, but your examples don’t really challenge the original thought experiment as it is obvious that there are many children in mainstream schools with more severe SEN for whom that target is wholly unattainable. Hence why the original blogger specified mainstream student.

    Perhaps it would be more valuable instead to describe children who are/will be entered for GCSE and do not receive SEN support and their barriers to attainment.

    1. bigkid4 Post author

      I asked him on Twitter if students in mainstream that should not be were included and he said yes. You weren’t to know that. Will edit blogpost to include that.

    2. bigkid4 Post author

      Whether the pupils I described are special needs or not does not alter the simple fact that the grade boundaries are set so that a certain percentage of pupils pass. While this remains the case all pupils cannot pass for obvious reasons (unless everyone taking the exam got 100%)

      If the exam were done in such a way that everyone that displayed certain knowledge/competencies passed then it might be possible for all to pass. It would of course depend on the exam.


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