Headteachers fear for their jobs after some schools saw huge drops in their maths GCSE results, their representatives warned today.
The ASCL heads’ union, said it had heard from “significant” numbers of schools that had experienced large unexpected drops of up to 20 percentage points in the proportion of pupils achieving A*-C grades in GCSE maths.
“They are mystified, they are concerned about it,” said Brian Lightman, ASCL general secretary. “With the accountability system as fierce as it is at the moment this is a threat to people’s jobs. This is what schools are held to account for.”
The concerns are focused on the Edexcel maths GCSE, taken by most students in England. Heads leaders say the problems could be connected to the exam paper that contained a now-infamous question about “Hannah’s Sweets”.
It sparked a media storm this summer when students took to Twitter complaining that it was too difficult.
But Lesley Davies, from Edexcel, said: “Students can be assured that whatever their performance was on the day their grade in the paper reflects that performance.”
The problems appear to be centred on particular schools. Overall, this year's GCSE results saw the proportion of pupils acheiving A*-C grades in maths rise from 62.4 to 63.3 per cent.
A statement from Pearson, which runs the Edexcel exam board, said: “Hannah's Sweets was a ‘high’ demand question worth 6 out of 100 marks. It was the 7th hardest question on the paper (there were six other questions that differentiated the top students' performance to a greater extent).”
It added that Pearson has raised the C grade boundary on its higher tier papers, including the paper that included the Hannah’s sweets question. It said this was because “questions targeted at grade C on higher tier papers were more accessible so candidates at this ability level were able to pick up more marks.”
However, it has also lowered the grade boundary for A and A* grades on higher tier papers. This was because “both papers were less accessible at the top end for A/A* candidates,” the statement said.