There is a way up for grades

26th April 2013 at 01:00

The cover feature "Is there no way up for results?" (19 April) does not take the story quite far enough. The government view of grade inflation means that current GCSE grade rates are too high and will need to fall over the next five years. The rationale for this is that, looking at students' average scores rather than countries' positions, which are often affected by bunching, the UK's performance in international comparisons - the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss), the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) - has been virtually static and mostly middling since the 1990s. Yet GCSE rates have risen considerably during this period. Ofqual has therefore been instructed to increase the demand of GCSE examinations to ensure by a "backwash effect" that the UK's scores in international tests are among the highest. Grade rates will therefore fall initially.

In my own subject, English, the lowering of grade rates began with Ofqual's "comparable outcomes" in 2012. There are two more stages to come: the move to linear exams in 2014, which research by the awarding body OCR suggests will lead to a fall in C grades of between 3 and 7.5 per cent; and the new specifications in 2015 for higher demand, no coursework or controlled assessments and a separate grade for speaking and listening. But it doesn't have to be like this. Schools can raise students' results if they move on from the National Strategies style of teaching and adopt some of the exciting new styles of pedagogy.

Laurie Smith, Lecturer and research associate, King's College London.

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