Skip to main content

Comment: Why have some schools seen a sudden drop in GCSE maths and English results?

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says dips need to be investigated

News article image

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says dips need to be investigated

I wish congratulations to all the students who received their GCSE results today and the best of luck to them in whichever route they now choose. We have once again seen outstanding achievements up and down the country, reflecting the great work of staff and students.

Overall, this year’s GCSE figures show that results are broadly stable. However, we are receiving reports from some schools that students have not achieved the results that they and their teachers had expected in their exams, particularly in maths and English.

Teachers will have had a good idea of what grades they expected their students to achieve on the basis of their prior assessments and knowledge of them. That is why an unexpected dip in results will have left schools both confused and concerned.

As the number of schools is limited (and there are also schools whose results have improved), it would be wrong to overstate the extent of the issue, but this is a serious problem for those who are affected.

Some schools are reporting that the percentage of pupils passing maths at grades A* to C has dropped by double figures from the previous year. This will seriously affect school performance tables, which will obviously be worrying for the senior leadership teams, governors and staff.

We have an extremely high-stakes accountability system, and some difficult and anxious meetings will be taking place today in those schools that have experienced unexpected dips.

And it will be devastating for the students. They may no longer be able to take up places on courses they had chosen and may have to consider other options instead. These decisions have an effect on the future direction of their education and careers.

It is important not to jump to any conclusions about what has happened here, but we do need to find the reason for this anomaly. Teachers must be sure what their students need to do to achieve a particular grade and many do not feel that is always entirely clear. Sudden dips affect the confidence they have in the system.

In the longer term, we also need to ensure that the criteria for each grade is clearly defined in the new, reformed qualifications so that teachers are fully equipped to prepare their students for their exams.

The introduction of new GCSEs and A-levels over the next few years is a major change. One of the reforms involves an entirely new scoring system, in which GCSEs will be graded from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest. It will be critical to the success of these new qualifications that the requirements for each of these new numerical grades are pinned down.

These questions should not cloud the overall picture that schools up and down the country are achieving fantastic results, but what we need to understand is why any unexpected dips have occurred and whether there are any lessons to be learned.


Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you