By Martin Hodge, Professional Officer
New curriculum and 9-1 grading system
We reported last year the new 9-1 grading system had featured in GCSE results. This year 23 subjects have issued their results in this format with the final twenty being introduced next year. This year’s GCSE students will be the last who will be receiving a mixture of numerical and alphabetical grades – but only in England, as Wales and Northern Ireland are sticking with the A*-G grading system.
There have been several reports in the news recently about the new GCSEs being tougher. These reformed GCSEs are designed to be more challenging. With harder and broader content assessed with tougher exams and less coursework. In some instances, the courses were only finalised shortly before teaching commenced with past papers and course textbooks not available until later on.
With all the changes it is therefore it is not surprising to see that there has been a drop by 0.1% in the overall pass rate with 98.3% of students achieving a G/1 grade or above. At the other end of the scale outcomes are up slightly with 20.5% achieving A/7 and C/4 up 0.5% to 66.9%.
There has been a small rise in entries this year despite there being 2.7% fewer 16-year-olds. Notable subject entries include a rise of 20% in those taking Dual Award Science, and a 0.4% increase in those studying a Modern Foreign Language but there has been a significant drop in the number of 15-year-olds taking exams down 26.7% to 123,603 entries.
To take account of the changes of the curriculum and other year-on-year variations, OFQUAL employs a system of ‘comparable outcomes’ approach. This is not without controversy, as teachers and school leaders are constantly being encouraged to have high expectations of pupils, and not to impose an artificial cap on their aspiration by labelling them or defining the limits of their attainment on the basis of prior performance.
The use of comparative judgement was called into question earlier this week by Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham arguing that “OFQUAL’s intervention will mean lower marks are needed to get good grades.” Indeed, the qualifications regulator has lowered some of the grade thresholds to safeguard students from the full effect of tougher standards as the reformed system is phased in. It emerged that in one maths paper the pass mark was set at 18%. Of course, there would be a national outcry should results be seen to fall, and the impact that this would have on students and staff, whose careers are so often tied to levels of achievement, would be incalculable. So OFQUAL is really in an unenviable position.
Earlier this week the NSPCC reported that the number of referrals by schools in England seeking mental health treatment for pupils has risen by more than a third in the past three years. And a Gloucestershire teenager told the Guardian she believes about 50% of her year group are suffering from mental health problems. “I know that everyone struggles with the exams and the importance of them,” she says, “however, the new courses have amplified the pressure and surely they shouldn’t be causing my fellow students to have suicidal thoughts.”
The fact that these news stories are so high-profile highlights the importance of GCSEs to the education landscape and they must be pursued for the benefit of students and staff working in the examination system. However, today, they must not be permitted to detract from the undisputable achievements of so many students who have laboured so hard. Today is a day to rejoice and celebrate the hard work and dedication of the students and those who surround them.