Students should expect 'big variations' in GCSE grades, says exam watchdog

Return to end-of-course exams and changes to key subjects could see results vary across country, says Ofqual.

Students who sat GCSEs this summer should expect big variations in their grades the exams watchdog has warned, after the overhaul of the system which saw a return to end-of-course examinations and changes to key courses.

Ofqual says it is impossible to predict what the national picture will look like when results are released on 21 August, but warns that manyschools will see their students' grades vary significantly on last year.

"Comparisons between the national picture of results in 2013 and 2014 should be approached with caution, as you will not be comparing like with like," said Glenys Stacey, Ofqual's chief regulator.

"These changes do not pull results universally in one direction or another, but together they are likely to affect the national picture to some extent."

Most of the changes will only affect students in England.

This is the first year that GCSE students have not been allowed to take or resit modules during their course. Instead, all students have been examined at the end of a two-year programme. There are far fewer students entering exams early after changes to the way that schools' performance tables are measured, which mean only a student's first attempt at an exam is now included in the figures.

About 300,000 fewer students than last year were entered for GCSEs at age 15, when they are less likely to perform well. The drop in early entries is thought to have the greatest impact to themathematics GCSE, which tends to be retaken more frequently than other subjects.

Sweeping changes to the assessment of compulsory English GCSEs are also likely to affect student performance. More weight has been given to pupils' exam work, while speaking and listening tests will no longer contribute towards the final grade because of fears that schools, which set and mark the exams, were inconsistent in previous years.

This summer's students are the first to sit the new toughened up geography GCSE, which has been "strengthened so that exams must cover the full curriculum," according to Stacey.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) says the introduction of theEnglish baccalaureate (EBacc) – a performance measure that encourages schools to enter more students to exams in history, geography and modern foreign languages – may prompt a dip in the performance of pupils. "The entry of these [additional] students, who could be lower performing, may increase entries but depress results," said Michael Turner, the director general at the Joint Council for Qualifications .

JCQ, which represents the examination boards, will write an open letter on GCSE results day to teachers, governors and parents to explain why results are so unstable. Turner said: "A number of changes to GCSEs this summer may make school level results look different to last year.

"Standards will be maintained but the changes have meant we have seen a dramatic reduction in early and multiple entries for GCSEs.

"These changes include the removal of the chance of resits, with all assessments taking place at the end of the course, and the new rule that only the result of a first sitting of a qualification counts in school performance tables.

"The changes will impact on schools' results to varying degrees. For example, if a school usually enters its 15-year-olds for GCSEs but doesn't this year, due to the changes, their overall results might look very different.

"We feel it is important to ensure teachers, governors and parents understand why individual school results may look different this year. That is why we will be providing a comprehensive overview of the changes and how they impact on the results."

It is expected that A-level results, due to be released on 14 August, will be relatively stable, although this is the first year that students were not able to sit January exams.

Disruption to students' GCSE grades is likely to continue over the next few years. From 2017, GCSEs will be graded from nine to one rather than A*-G, as attempts are made to distinguish between the students who cluster in the middle grades.

The guardian.com


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