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GCSE rule change skewed fail rate

CONCENTRATION on high-flyers at the expense of weaker pupils is proposed as an explanation for the increase in the percentage of pupils failing in this year's GCSE examinations ("Alarm as failure rate expands," TES, August 28). While I see sense in the arguments put forward as contributory factors, I think that there is one obvious omission.

Since the introduction of GCSE, it has always been an examination regulation that pupils have to complete all components of an exam in order to qualify for a grade. The only exception to this has been when centres have applied for "special consideration" in extenuating circumstances.

It was with some amazement that I learnt at a meeting held by one of the exam groups before Christmas that a grade was to be awarded based only upon components that had been completed. I expressed my concern at the meeting on two main grounds.

First, it seemed unfair to implement a change in regulations "mid term" and second, the award of a GCSE grade on limited assessment information could devalue essential elements of the courses.

I subsequently spoke to an officer at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority who led me to understand that the change had been introduced to reduce the numbers of pupils receiving X grades (no result) because they had not completed all components of the course.

The outcome of this policy has, in my view, affected the percentage of pupils receiving lower grades in this round of GCSE examinations.

What may have happened is that pupils, who would normally have been withdrawn from an exam when it became clear that they would not satisfy all the requirements of the course, have retained their entry.

The classic example is the pupil who failed to meet this year's coursework deadline. In the past, schools would have withdrawn the pupil, thereby saving money and preventing a no result.

I suggest that there has been pressure to allow pupils to remain entered in the hope that they might achieve something; many have ended up failing.

Phil Collins

Deputy head The Chantry High School Martley, Worcestershire

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