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Primary Education News
News Exams chief warns against emphasis on English and maths GCSEs
Ofqual chief says schools' performance should be measured on progress made in subjects over five years
Overall progress by pupils studying English and maths is a better measure of school performance than an over-emphasis on exam results, England's exam regulator has told the government in response to its overhaul of secondary school accountability.
The letter to the education secretary, Michael Gove, from Glenys Stacey, chief regulator of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), suggests the government's reforms have not yet succeeded in ironing out distortions in the school league tables, which reward schools that raise students' exam results from Ds to Cs at the expense of pupils on either side of that threshold.
Stacey also said parents and the government should be braced for greater fluctuations in exam results following the reform of GCSEs, and called for increasingly popular qualifications such as iGCSE and BTech to receive more oversight from regulators if they are to be included in government performance metrics.
Ofqual's comments follow the Department for Education's decision to scrap league tables based on the percentage of pupils who achieved C or higher at GCSE. The measure is to be replaced by two new league tables: one using a school's English and maths GCSE grades, and a "Best 8" using an average points score to gauge the progress made by pupils in eight subjects between the end of primary school and GCSE results.
Stacey said English and maths should be given greater weight in the government's proposed measure as "the qualifications recognised as most likely to improve students' life", but warned against using exam results in the two subjects alone.
"If GCSEs in key subjects are put under too much pressure, they will not reliably measure the knowledge and skills they are designed to assess," Stacey wrote, referring to a concept known in social science as Goodhart's law.
"You will need to make sure you do not over-emphasise grade threshold measures of threshold performance in key qualifications," Stacey warned Gove.
Instead, Ofqual recommended that the government's floor standard for achievement should be based on progress made in English and maths rather than exams alone, and use the wider "Best 8" as a measure of absolute performance.
"In that way, English and maths would remain the central core of a balanced accountability framework but without the pressure of being threshold measures in the floor standard," she said.
A DfE spokeswoman said: "Ofqual is clear that the current system is affected by perverse incentives, distorts teaching, narrows the curriculum and places too much pressure on qualifications.
"The regulator also says our proposals to develop accountability measures are in very much the right direction. We have recently consulted on proposals and will respond in due course."
Meanwhile, teachers say that charity activity in secondary schools is being hurt by the emphasis on exam results and league tables. A survey by the Charities Aid Foundation found 67% of teachers said the pressure make it harder for schools to educate students about charities and issues in society.