Confusion reigns, results fall as new grades bed in

New 9-1 marking system sees gender gap widen in both English and maths
25th August 2017, 12:00am
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Confusion reigns, results fall as new grades bed in

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/confusion-reigns-results-fall-new-grades-bed

Changing cohorts, fluctuating school entry patterns and shifting government policy can make interpreting GCSE results difficult at the best of times.

But this summer’s batch surely wins the prize for confusion. There are two different grading systems - A*-G and 9-1 - running concurrently, and no fewer than three distinctly different national versions of the GCSE being used in the UK.

However, one clear point did shine through - results were down, with the proportion of UK entries receiving top grades - A*/A or 9-7 - falling to exactly a fifth, its lowest point in a decade.

They were also down on the A*-C, or 9-4, indicator from 66.9 to 66.3 per cent. And all of this happened as new intentionally tougher, numerically graded maths, English language and English literature GCSEs came on stream for the first time.

But predictions that the reformed qualifications, with less coursework, would favour boys were not entirely borne out. Girls extended their lead in both English subjects, although boys pulled further ahead in maths.

Headteachers have warned that this year’s results should not be compared to previous years in light of these new GCSEs being phased in over four years.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, says “In a year which marks the start of unprecedented changes to GCSEs, these kinds of comparisons are particularly unjust and unreliable.

“Until all of the reformed GCSEs are fully implemented and we’ve seen a few more years of the 9-1 system, those who seek to hold schools to account should refrain from comparing this year’s results to last.”

But that has not stopped the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the exam boards, from aiding those comparisons. Today it released the proportion of UK students that received a 7, or an A, and above - showing a fall of 0.5 percentage points from 20.5 per cent last year.

The same was done with what used to be known as the overall “good” pass rate - A*-C - which this year was combined with a 4 and above - to show the 0.6 percentage point fall.

It was a similar picture for all three subjects where many pupils took England’s reformed versions of the qualification. The proportion of all UK GCSE entries achieving an A or a 7 or better fell from 13.7 in 2016 to 13.6 per cent in English language; from 21.3 to 19.2 per cent in English literature and from 15.9 to 15.5 per cent in maths.

The march of Progress 8

But the exam boards have said that the drop in outcomes - including the reformed subjects - can be linked to a change in cohort this year, which has been driven by school accountability measures.

The number of GCSE English language entries jumped by 48.1 per cent, with the likely explanation that the equivalent IGCSE was removed from the league tables this year.

Meanwhile, the number of GCSE English literature entries jumped by 38.6 per cent this year because of the way it counts towards the main school accountability measure Progress 8.

This means that more lower-ability pupils have been entered for these exams - especially English literature - which the exam boards say has led to a fall in the proportion of top grades this summer.

In maths, the impact of large numbers of 17-year-olds resitting is likely to have contributed to the fall.

Michael Turner, director general of JCQ, says: “The substantial shifts in entry patterns, especially in the English subjects where there were a quarter of a million extra students, are mainly the result of those students who previously would have sat the IGCSE now taking the GCSE.

“And, as expected, these changes have had an effect on overall UK results.”

@Eleanor_Busby

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