English GCSE grade boundary change 'penalises pupils'

Teachers claim Edexcel grade boundary change this year impacted unfairly on students working at a lower level

Catherine Lough

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Teachers using the Edexcel English language GCSE have expressed dismay after the exam board raised the grade boundaries for the subject following changes to one of the papers.

In a statement, Edexcel said it had raised the grade boundary in response to changes to the paper which made it more “accessible”.

Questions 2 and 5 were altered so that they targeted AO1 “identify information and ideas”, rather than AO2 “analyse how writers use language and structure”, and structured bullet points were added to questions 3 and 7 to clarify the skills being assessed.

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Candidates were also given five minutes of extra time to complete the exam.

“The changes made the paper more accessible to candidates and contributed to an increase in mean score for the paper,” the statement said.

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 “The boundaries in summer 2019 have therefore increased to reflect the increase in candidate performance and in order to ensure the maintenance of standards across series.”

GCSE grade boundary changes

However, many English teachers who use the Edexcel exam have raised concerns over the hike in grade boundaries, which particularly impacted pupils working at grades 1 to 4.

English teacher Rachel Lewin conducted a poll of 35 Edexcel teachers on Twitter: 74 per cent said progress in English language had fallen at their school.

Others have commented that the difference in marks is greater for students working at lower grades than it is for students achieving grades 7 to 9.

Twitter user Miss R, a head of English, pointed out that between 2017 and 2019, the marks needed for a grade 1 have doubled from 9 to 20, while for those working at grade 9 the grade boundary has changed by one mark.


One English teacher, who reported that their school will switch boards to AQA as a result of the boundary changes, said: “The fact that the exam board changed the specification – and added five minutes because examiners were spending too long marking a low mark question – has impacted student grades.

“Because of the change, Edexcel raised grade boundaries by 8 marks [to achieve grade 4] on a difficult paper…Is it fair to penalise students for an exam board decision?”

Another English teacher said: “On an individual level, this leaves students who have consistently produced effective, grade 4 writing throughout their course, who were expecting to pass based on the standards we could expect from previous years, and who have good standards of literacy for future life, with a grade 3 and the prospect of having to retake English.

“Some are unable to take the courses they were signed up for at college.”

A spokesperson for Edexcel said: "We set the grade boundaries for each exam paper each year. This ensures a fair system, so that students of the same ability will get the same grade in different years, even if there are differences in the demand of papers.

“Grade boundaries have been set this year to ensure that the work that students produce for a grade 4 is consistent between examination series year on year."


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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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