Teachers told not to switch GCSE boards over grades

Expert warns against moving over apparently 'staggering' differences in GCSE English language grades

Catherine Lough


GCSE English teachers have been warned against switching exam boards, despite "staggering" differences in grading statistics.

The advice came after data posted on Twitter showed that a striking 6.38 per cent of entries to OCR English language GCSE were awarded a grade 9 – the highest possible grade – this year.

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This is in stark contrast to the proportion of grade 9s achieved under other boards. For pupils sitting the GCSE with AQA, for example, just 2.1 per cent of all entries achieved the top grade.

English teacher and assistant head Caroline Spalding posted the data after it was shown to attendants at an event run by school network partnership Pixl, although the information is publicly available on the exam boards' websites.

When asked about whether there was any explanation offered for the disparity in the proportion of grade 9s, she said there were clearly "very distinct cohorts" entered for each board.

Some English teachers suggested this meant they should switch boards to OCR. Stephanie Keenan, a head of English, quipped "everyone switches to OCR."

She later told the Tes: "‘I would not recommend anyone to change exam board on this basis and do not intend to change exam board at my school."

However, other replies noted that the OCR cohort is much smaller - there were 13,295 entries for the OCR paper compared with 77,586 for Edexcel and  541,578 for AQA - and that entries might come from predominantly selective schools with a higher-ability cohort. And Ms Spalding herself advised teachers not to switch boards.

Rachel Johnson, head of strategy at Pixl, said that teachers wanting to switch boards may have "misconceptions" about how exam grading worked.

"Changing boards would make no difference – if OCR suddenly had an influx of lower-ability and middle-ability candidates, then the proportion achieving a grade 9 would go down," she said.

"It may well be that OCR candidates are from very high-performing state schools or grammar schools."

She said the fact boards such as AQA had very large cohorts also meant they were less impacted by grading fluctuations than a board with a smaller cohort like OCR.

"That decision [to switch boards] is always with the school and must remain so," Ms Johnson said. "Only schools know their context, their teacher experience and which of their students progress to A level.

"The fact that people have seen the figures and want to switch board does suggest there are misconceptions around the system."

Ms Johnson added that Pixl had shared the information about grading as part of a larger presentation. 

"We shared the whole thing (all boards and all grades) as part of the round-up of results from this summer, the same with maths and science – we always do this in September’s first meeting," she said.

"We report what the stats are and don’t comment on much more than that. We ask questions and do not give answers because the answers are to be found by the schools themselves, prompted by our questions. Our job is to help them think through the issues and to help them understand."

"PiXL would certainly never suggest switching boards or which board to choose and we didn’t on Thursday." 

An OCR spokesperson said: “GCSE grades are awarded according to a process overseen by the regulator Ofqual that ensures that standards are consistent between exam boards as well as year on year.

"We work hard to ensure that our assessments are high quality yet accessible to a wide range of students. Three quarters of schools and colleges currently offering our GCSE English Language are state-funded.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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