Early English literature GCSE entries from 15-year-olds have risen by 17.9 per cent in a year, it was revealed today.
This follows a rise of 39.1 per cent in the number of early entries in English literature in 2018. Some exam boards are suggesting the increase is driven by school performance measures.
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Mark Bedlow, director of delivery at the AQA exam board, said: “English literature is more where you see that entry in Year 10.
"We’ve seen it for a couple of years – it may be in part driven by the Progress 8 measure in school performance tables, [that counts] the better of your English language and literature grades.”
Schools are likely to enter pupils into both English qualifications to qualify for the English Baccalaureate. The thinking may be that spreading the final exams for the qualifications over two years may give pupils a chance of banking a good grade.
However, the practice of early entry is controversial.
Earlier this decade, Michael Gove took action against the practice when he was education secretary by ensuring school league tables included pupils’ first attempts at a GCSE – preventing schools from entering students into exams multiple times to ensure they achieved a standard pass.
After his announcement, the number of early entries across all subjects fell by 40 per cent to 505,000 in 2014.
And today, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that early entry was only justified when it was in a student’s best interests.
“If it’s clearly in the interests of a child to do a qualification early because they’ve mastered it and it clears the decks for them to be able to concentrate on others that they need to work on harder – that’s fine,” he said.
“There are sometimes accusations of people doing that in the interests of the school and performance tables – it would be really nice to get to a system where that isn’t part of the accusation around it.”
Exam boards have said the overall 3.8 per cent rise in English literature GCSE entries – which have risen by 3.8 per cent to 587,051 – have partly been driven by more students taking the subject early.
Alex Scharaschkin, director of research at AQA, said: “In English literature, we have a continuation of the trend that we saw last year of 15-year-olds entering the subject in year 10. They now account for 6.5 per cent of the total English literature entry, and made up 5.7 per cent of the cohort last year.”
Conversely, in English language - where entries have increased by 4.4 per cent since last year, rising to 765,332 candidates - exam boards said reduced early entries in the subject in 2018 meant there were more 16-year-olds sitting the qualification this year.