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Ofqual chief warns of exam results rollercoaster

Schools can expect to see much greater than normal variation in this summer’s GCSE and A-level exam results, Ofqual warned today.

A series of reforms including a return to end-of-course exams means this year’s results are likely to be more volatile when compared with previous years, according to chief regulator Glenys Stacey.

“We expect that schools will see more variability in their results as compared to last year,” she said.

This year sees a conflation of a series of changes to exam structure and content, including a shift away from modules and towards end-of-course exams. Speaking and listening assignments will no longer count towards GCSE grades in English, while the balance between exams and controlled assessments has shifted in favour of the former.

The government’s decision to count only the first attempt at an exam towards league tables has seen a 40 per cent drop in the number of Year 10 students taking GCSEs early.

The changes would make it harder for schools to compare this year’s results with previous years, Ms Stacey said.

“Because of the totality of the changes, all schools are likely to be affected,” she said. “Direct comparisons can’t be made because you won’t be comparing like with like.”

AS and A-level results would also be affected, as students could no longer sit exams in January or re-sit AS units in Year 13, she added. As a result, overall entries are up this year on summer 2013.

She said the impact of the changes could vary widely from school to school, depending on choices they had made in the past. Schools that previously entered students for all units at the end of their course, for example, were likely to be affected differently than those that had to make a wholesale shift away from a modular approach.

And she warned that this annual variation was likely to continue over the next few years as more reforms take effect and schools become more savvy over how to maximise results. Changes coming in for GCSEs include a shift to a 9-1 instead of A*-G grading system from 2017.

“Schools are thinking strategically about how to get the best results for their students,” she said. “It is an increasingly sophisticated approach that we see across the spectrum of schools.”

She said Ofqual was also in talks with the exam boards over changes to modern foreign language A-levels in the wake of concerns about falling numbers and not enough top grades being awarded.

These changes would come into effect for students sitting A-levels in French, German and Spanish next summer, but Ms Stacey said the detail was still being worked out.

“We are going to be making a number of recommendations to the exam boards for changes to their approach and the detail of their approach and we are going to be requiring those changes to be put into effect for next summer's exam series,” she said.

Related stories: 

Early GCSE entries fall dramatically - May 2014

Schools face five solid years of constant exam revolution - April 2014

GCSEs: 'Pass' grades to get tougher and new recognition for 'exceptional' pupils - April 2014


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