Exclusive: New GCSEs less accurate, teachers warn

Most teachers feel new GCSEs do not accurately reflect ability and have worsened pupils' mental health and engagement

Catherine Lough

Teachers feel that the new GCSEs are worsening pupils' mental health and engagement, according to a NEU survey

Most teachers say the reformed GCSEs do not reflect their pupils’ abilities as well as legacy qualifications, a survey by the largest teaching union has found.

Results from the NEU poll, seen by Tes, show that that 54 per cent of GCSE teachers felt the revised qualifications were less accurate measures.

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Only 19 per cent thought the new exams were more accurate in demonstrating pupils’ abilities than the GCSEs they replaced.

The survey also found that:

  • 73 per cent of teachers thought the new GCSEs had made pupils’ mental health worse.
  • 61 per cent of respondents said the reforms had decreased students’ engagement in education.

Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the NEU, said: “These findings from our NEU survey clearly show serious consideration is needed over how best to meaningfully assess students’ ability.

Teachers lack faith in new GCSEs

"It is incredible that government has managed to create a new GCSE system that the majority of teachers do not believe gives a true reflection of student ability.

“Assessment in the majority of subjects by end-of-year exams only, and excessive content crammed into too short a time, is resulting in an exam system that is largely about regurgitating facts with very little time for thinking or deeper learning.

"Not only does this not reflect students’ ability but is leading to many feeling disillusioned, disengaged and stressed."

The reformed GCSEs, with 9-1 grades replacing A*-Gs, were introduced by Michael Gove when he was edcuation secretary and were intentionally designed to be more challenging than their predecessors.

They have been introduced in stages from 2015, with the final tranche of new GCSEs being sat for the first time next year.  

Teachers in the NEU survey commented that the revised qualifications were leading to “teaching to the test”, and said the content of the new GCSEs was particularly unsuited to the needs of lower-ability students.

“Education now is limited to very few students, and those who learn best through vocational methods (especially SEND) are being switched off from education,” one teacher wrote.

“Students are only concerned about passing the exam and memorising facts/ quotes. The love of the subject itself is dwindling. Students are hugely stressed and lots of them give up quickly, as they think they’ll never be able to pass – the new GCSEs are simply too difficult and not accessible for a lot of our lower-ability students,” another respondent wrote.

Some teachers said the difficulty of the new content led to students “switching off”, resulting in low motivation and poor behaviour. One teacher said the exams were culturally biased in favour of more affluent students.

“They are so hard that pupils feel they cannot achieve the highest grades," the teacher said. "There is also a huge problem of middle-class bias in exam questions and scenarios which creates issues for disadvantaged pupils."



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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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