Humanist Schools defy expectations at A-level

Lifted high by fellow students

The pictures show Mustard Seed School’s star student, Joan Mukisa, being congratulated for her outstanding A-level performance when the results, two Bs and a C, were released last week.

Joan, or Joanex as she prefers to be known, stood out as an exceptional student when she joined the school.  She is a single orphan, who has been supported on a UHST scholarship throughout her secondary schooling. When her father died, her mother, a market trader, was left to bring up Joan with her 2 brothers and 3 sisters. Their home is near Iganga, 2 hour’s drive from the school, so she has lived in the boarding hostel. In Senior 3 Joan set her sights on becoming a lawyer, so she could fight injustice. Joan has always displayed considerable leadership and communication skills. She chaired the school Disciplinary Committee and brought considerable acclaim to the school as the scout troop leader. She took them to triumph in Jamborees at District and National Level, and gained third position in the East African Scouting Competitions in Rwanda. She was prominent in the debating society, which should be good training if she achieves her ambition to be a lawyer. In March 2016 Joan gained a division 1 grade in her National School Certificate (O-level) exams, and in the sixth form she has studied History, Economics, Divinity, Subsidiary Mathematics and General Studies and served the school as Head Prefect. She is a delightful girl who has been a role model throughout her schooling. We all expect great things of her as she moves on next to a place in a good university.

Mustard Seed entered 25 students for A-levels in 2017 and every one of them obtained the minimum pass grades. The three lowest achieving students gained two A-levels at Grade D level. The majority of students gained averages of C/D

Congratulations from History and Head teachers

grades with a few grade Bs.

Isaac Newton High School’s A-level results are also remarkable for a rural school in a poor area, where almost all children are first generation educated. While the school gained few very high grades, almost all students gained the matriculation (minimum for university entry) requirement of 2 A-levels and there were many students who achieve C and D grades. This may seem modest, but Uganda has recently stiffened its standards and only the exceptional few students are awarded A and B grades. In National terms out of 2600 A-level centres, Isaac Newton came 124th. The school was 40th in terms of lowest proportion of outright failures. It had the 3rd best results in Agriculture, and they were 113th in science performance (this seems surprising given the relatively low absolute grades in science). However, it is important to note that A-level grades in Uganda are criterion referenced rather than norm referenced. The U.K., which is norm referenced, allows roughly the same number of A, B, C grades – even when the actual standards in the exam fall. Whereas in Uganda they have national descriptors for the characteristics of A, B , C scripts and if no students reach that level then they award no A grades at all – and this has been the position for the last 3 years. A hard exam begets low grades. So getting all students through with C, D, E can put a school high up the league tables.

What is really great, is the position measured on a value added basis – the average percentage rise in the grades of individual students from O level to A level. On this statistic, Isaac Newton came 21st out of 2600 Centres. This shows just how effective the school is at raising achievement from O to A level of relatively poorly performing students at the earlier stage. Their value added from primary leaving is even more remarkable.

The Humanist Schools have defied expectations by matching and surpassing the A-level results of many more established schools. Both Mustard Seed and Isaac Newton Schools are in impoverished rural areas and, for most of their existence, they have had to get by with whatever casual and part-time teachers they could get to cover the secondary curriculum. After 12 years of operation, educational and welfare standards have improved and student numbers have risen from less than 100 to over 500 students. Furthermore, for the past two years they have increased the pay of teachers (though still below most other schools), given full and part time teachers contracts and enrolled them in the National Social Security

Scheme. Despite these improvement in conditions, the schools still rely on young, newly-trained and less-well qualified teachers. However, they make up for this by fostering a sense of belonging and commitment to the school, the community and

Local press at goat presentation

the students. Staff turnover is still a problem but has reduced hugely. Efforts to bring the teachers together to learn from each other through the Humanist Ethos Project and other initiatives has also played its part. UHST has also played a part in the improvement by flooding books, computers and other resources into the schools and supplementing the pay of teachers and directors through a salary bonus scheme funded using donations from our loyal supporters, many of whom have stuck with us through the early years of trials and tribulations. It goes without saying, that everyone involved with UHST is delighted with the schools’ outstanding progress.


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