Ofqual issues warning over GCSE tiers

Exams watchdog says 'exceptional' action to prevent pupils getting U grades in combined science GCSE won't be repeated

Claims that IGCSEs are easier than the reformed GCSEs point to questions about the purpose of education, writes Holly Rigby

Exams regulator Ofqual has warned that the "exceptional" action it took to intervene on grades for students taking higher tier GCSEs in science and languages last year will not be repeated.

And it warns teachers to be wary of “third-party organisations” who are recommending borderline students are entered for higher-tier exams.

In a letter to headteachers today, Ofqual has said that the decision to allow some candidates to be awarded the grade 3-3 on a higher tier combined science “was exceptional and will not be permitted in summer 2019”.

It says that around a third of schools had some higher-tier students who were awarded a 3-3 grade in combined science last summer.

It adds that the lowest grade available on higher-tier exams this year is 4-4 for combined science, although a small number who just miss the lowest grade may be awarded a 4-3.

For languages, the lowest grade is 4, although a small number may get a 3.

But pupils falling below this will receive an unclassified result (U).

Ofqual recommends that students who are predicted to get grade 4 are entered for the foundation tier instead.

The watchdog has also written to heads of science and heads of modern languages.

'Narrow safety net'

“We know that some third-party organisations have recommended higher-tier entry for students who are predicted to achieve around grade 4-4 (or grade 4 in single GCSEs),” the letter to heads of science says.

“I would caution you against following that advice, as such students are at risk of missing out on two GCSE grades (for combined science). There is a narrow safety net grade 4-3 for students who just miss a grade 4-4, but below that they will receive an unclassified result (U). We recommend that students who are predicted to achieve a grade 4-4 or 5-4 should be entered for foundation tier.”

The letter suggests that schools contact exam boards for additional advice.

It comes after Ofqual took extraordinary action to stop pupils, who it believes were inappropriately entered for a higher-tier GCSE science paper, from walking away with U grades in 2018.

The regulator took the highly unusual step of intervening over the fail grades for GCSE combined science after it found that more than expected were getting an unclassified result.

Ofqual allowed examiners to look at the work pupils did on the higher-tier paper and judge whether it would have been enough to secure them two grade 3s had they sat the foundation tier paper for the double GCSE.

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