By Martin Hodge, Professional Officer (Policy & Research)
Congratulations to all those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland celebrating achievements in the 2019 GCSEs. Voice also sends its warmest congratulations to all those parents, teachers, school leaders and support staff who have played such a significant role throughout.
Curriculum & Anxiety
We reported last year that, in England, the new 9-1 grading system had featured in GCSE results. This year, another series of reformed subjects has been awarded for the first time, meaning that the majority of students will only receive numerical grades – but only in England, as Wales is sticking with the A*-G grading system and Northern Ireland using a combination of both.
These ‘reformed’ GCSEs have more content, making them an excellent pathway for those going on to study at A level. However, there have been several reports in the news recently about the new GCSEs being tougher and being a less accurate measure of students’ abilities. The excessive content that forms the curriculum means the system is largely about regurgitating facts rather than promoting creativity and deeper learning. This means that they do not suit all learners and can be dispiriting for those who struggle to achieve, leading to increased levels of anxiety.
According to Ofqual, a recent large-scale study of 14-16-year-olds in England found that 16.4% of students reported themselves to be highly ‘test anxious’, with female students more likely to be affected. Over 600,000 students sit GCSEs each year, which means that there may be as many as 100,000 students experiencing test anxiety each year.
Entries & Outcomes
85% of entries are from students in state-funded schools and academies but, with all the changes, it is therefore not surprising to see that there has been a drop in entries for those in year 10. It simply is not possible for students to cover the whole curriculum in one year and most of the entries (90%) are for those in year 11.
Entries in EBacc subjects continue to rise (up 4%) to 4.2 million; conversely non-EBacc subjects have further fallen (by 9%) to 1 million entries. This is likely to reflect that schools/colleges are continuing to focus on those subjects which contribute towards the EBacc, Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures despite the fact that three former education secretaries and two former Ofsted chiefs have written to the current education secretary. In their letter they condemn the EBacc for the adverse impact it is having on the breadth of the curriculum, squeezing out technical, cultural and creative subjects, such as design and technology, dance, drama, music and art, from schools.
Results this year continue to be stable and comparable with previous years with small overall increases at grades 7/A and 4/C with no change in the proportion achieving at least a grade 1/C.
Results in Maths and English show marginal increases and whilst females continue to outperform males in English and English Literature, males continue to outperform females in Maths. In Science, perhaps due to the new curriculum being more established and teachers becoming more familiar with the content, it was encouraging to see slight increases in all three separate science, and especially at 4/C in the Science Double Award as this will facilitate many students to continue in further study.
GCSEs are vitally important to the education landscape and they must be pursued for the benefit of students and staff working in the examination system. However, whatever the news story today is a day to rejoice and celebrate the hard work and dedication of the students and those who surround them. Congratulations from Voice!