The exams watchdog has signaled its intention to crack down on the practice of entering students early for GCSEs and simultaneously entering them with more than one exam board in the same subject.
Earlier this month, Ofqual revealed that the tactics of early entry and using multiple exam boards had soared in recent years, with just two thirds of GCSE maths results to be released in two weeks’ time being for 16-year-olds.
Schools are increasingly turning to the practices in a bid to secure crucial C grades as greater pressure is being placed on them to meet government floor targets.
But in its corporate plan, setting out its aims for the next three years, Ofqual has said it will attempt to prevent schools entering their students for multiple exams or a year earlier, fearing that it is becoming difficult to set standards.
“Increasingly, candidates are being entered early in key subjects (most particularly maths), entered for more than one exam board’s GCSE in the same subject and for IGCSE rather than, or as well as, GCSE (most particularly in English and English language). These trends make standard-setting complex and difficult and increase the risk of unfairness for candidates overall,” the report states.
“We have advised government of changes needed to school accountability measures to reduce risks to standards, and we will strengthen our working arrangements with exam boards and others to identify and discourage school behaviours that distract from good educational outcomes and risk standards.”
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders, said it should be up to schools when to enter their students because they are best placed to know each pupil's situation.
"A student could have a particular ability in maths so a school puts them in early to allow them to study more advanced maths, or they may know a student's personal life might mean they do not finish Year 11, so they try to get them some sort of qualification. It should be left for the school to decide," Mr Trobe said.
He added: "In regards to multiple entry, I think Ofqual is aiming to ensure there is no advantage or disadvantage when it comes to a student sitting an exam with a particular exam board."
Ofqual's Corporate Plan sets out a wide range of commitments for the organisation up until 2016, including plans to introduce a new, national sample reference test to help standard setting in GCSEs.
It also intends to provide schools with new information to allow them to compare exam boards.
Ofqual’s chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: “We are committed to keeping a tight grip on standards, so people can have confidence that qualifications represent a proper record of knowledge, skills and achievement, and to making sure qualifications deliver what their users – students, employers, teachers, universities – need from them.
“The reform programmes for GCSEs and A levels are challenging. But it is a privilege to be able to oversee changes that will deliver new qualifications that are fit for the future,” she added.
The 2013-16 plan sets out Ofqual’s intention to:
- Implement reforms to GCSE, AS and A levels and improvements to the quality of key vocational qualifications
- Drive improvements to the standards of examinations and other assessments in key qualifications by using new regulatory tools and approaches
- Consult in the autumn on standard setting for new GCSEs and the development of a national, sample reference test to aid standard setting for GCSEs in future
- Overhaul the appeals process for GCSE, AS and A level
- Provide new information to schools to enable them to compare exam boards, and to help people to select the right vocational qualification for them
- A new focus on national assessments, in the light of the current government consultation on changes to primary accountability and assessment’.
- Put in place a new focus on the cost of qualifications.