Teachers split on whether reformed GCSEs cause extra pupil stress

Ofqual research uncovers concerns over linear GCSEs but also finds that scrapping modules may have cut stress for some pupils

Linear GCSEs exam stress

Teachers have “mixed views” on whether a move from modular to linear GCSEs has increased pupil stress, according to new research commissioned by the exams watchdog.

Ofqual said that while some teachers highlighted concerns about the impact of linear exams on student wellbeing, others felt that scrapping modules may have reduced stress for some students.

Later this afternoon, the exam regulator is due to publish the findings of a three-year research project on the impact of modular and linear exam structures at GCSE, which it carried out with academics from Oxford University’s Centre for Educational Assessment.


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According to a press statement released by Ofqual which summarises the research, the study considers “whether change in the structure of GCSE exams has affected standards, fairness, teaching and learning practices, cost, and students themselves”.

“Teachers had mixed views on the subject of stress,” the statement says.

“Some expressed concerns about the potential impact of linearity on the wellbeing of those students who require additional support, others noted that the elimination of the continual testing associated with modular GCSEs may reduce stress for some students.”

The publication of the research follows a comment piece by Damian Hinds yesterday, in which the education secretary argued that the government’s exam reforms had reduced stress for pupils because scrapping modules means “fewer stressful periods, not more”.

However, many teachers and school leaders have argued that scrapping modules and the majority of coursework has made the summer exam season more high-stakes and stressful.

Ofqual said it had concluded from its latest research that “in the current educational context, linear exams are more suitable at GCSE than modular exams”.

“Overall, the literature review points to claims that linear exams favour longer-term retention of information and deep learning, whereas modular exams allow regular feedback on performance which can be motivating for some students,” its press statement says.

However, the regulator says that “the quantitative evidence suggests that modular and linear GCSEs lead to similar outcomes overall”.

The research did not back up claims that “modular or linear exams tend to favour male or female students, or affect the outcomes of low and high socio-economic status students differently”.

Dr Michelle Meadows, executive director for strategy, research and risk, Ofqual, said: “Teachers were concerned about the change to linear GCSEs when we spoke to them before the recent reforms. How they adapted during the period of this research has been impressive.

"We have been able to look at the effects of the changes on teachers’ practices and many can see benefits to the introduction of linear examinations. They also report that they would now like a period of stability.”

Professor Jo-Anne Baird, professor of educational assessment, University of Oxford, said: “Our findings have been really surprising in a number of ways.

"We might have expected to see that modular examinations were easier, or at least easier for some of the groups we investigated, but we found no such differences. The comparable outcomes approach to setting standards has played a key role in this.”

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