Ministers’ crackdown on early GCSE entries is expected to prompt a flood of multiple entries with different exam boards, as schools work out how to get around the tough new rules, TES has learned.
The warnings of the “unintended consequences” came from an expert on school exam entries, as scores of pupils revealed their displeasure at being withdrawn from GCSEs next month, by schools trying to protect their league table positions.
This week Michael Gove, education secretary, accused some schools of “cheating” by entering pupils for GCSEs before they were ready. He announced that future school league tables would only count a pupil’s first GCSE attempt rather than their best effort.
But Sir John Rowling, chair of the PiXL (Performance in Excellence) Club – a group of more than 700 secondary schools in England aimed at improving their exam results – said: “Sometimes decisions are made and they result in unintended consequences because they were not thought through.”
“I have heard it suggested, already, that one way round this system is to just enter kids in the summer exams,” he added.
“You put them in for lets say AQA in the morning and then - for the same exam - Edxcel in the afternoon to give a kid an even chance of success. Because exams although they are meant to be identical in standard, they don’t always prove to be so.
“There are ways that people will use, and I am not talking about PiXL schools, I am talking about schools in general, to give what they believe is a fairer chance to the marginal kids.”
Sir John stressed he did not advocate the strategy and said that better consultation from the government over the rule change, announced in a newspaper interview, could have avoided the problem.
New Department for Education guidelines make it clear that the tactic will work in giving schools more chances to get a good grades for the league tables.
“Where exams are taken at the same time, in the same series, the best result will continue to count [in the performance tables],” the official advice says.
But it goes on to state that: “Schools will want to think carefully about whether this is in the best interests of their pupils. The Department for Education will continue to collect data on entry patterns, and will share that data at a school level with Ofsted.”
A spokesperson for the Department reinforced the warning, noting that the watchdog would be able to use the entry data when judging a school.
Sir John has already said he thinks most PiXL members will continue to use early entries because “they are doing it in the best interests of kids and not in the best interests of league tables”.
But many pupils have already taken to the social media website Twitter to complain about being withdrawn from the November GCSEs they had been revising for.
Most blame the government rather than schools. But some appear to have been told that the exams have been scrapped altogether and that re-sits have been “banned” – neither of which are true. “Government cancelled all our November exams,” one teenager wrote.
Other pupils question the whole argument against early entries – that the practice leads to lower grades. “Doesn't the government realise it will be worse if our Maths GCSEs are in June... when we have about 20 other exams?” a pupil tweeted.