22 Aug '13

News GCSE results warped by high volume of younger entrants, says Ofqual

Watchdog says schools putting pressure on students to take exams a year early means it cannot compare like for like

This year's GCSE results have been so distorted by schools pushing younger pupils into taking the exams that it is difficult to fairly compare them with previous years, the exam regulator Ofqual has said.

While the headline figures show a lower than expected fall of 1.3 percentage points in the number of entries achieving A* to C grades compared with last year, the overall results were dragged down by an influx of younger pupils being entered for the exams a year or more earlier.

Figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications showed that GCSE entries from 15-year-olds were up nearly 40%, from 579,831 to 806,141, and made up 15% of those sitting the exam.

"These changes in entry patterns make it difficult to fairly compare the overall results in 2013 with results in 2012 – we are not comparing like with like," Ofqual said in a statement after the results had been published.

Only 58% of those aged 15 and younger achieved A* to C grades, compared with 71% of 16-year-olds. Ofqual noted that when the results of 16-year-olds were taken alone, the results were very stable compared with previous years, and even showed a slight increase in English and maths results. In that age group the slight drop in grades was caused mainly by the introduction of a new set of science exams.

There were also widespread examples of multiple entries by individual pupils, taking two or more papers in the same subject, in a pattern that Andrew Hall, head of the AQA exam board, described as damaging to British education.

The changes were particularly marked in the key core subjects of English and maths, with maths seeing 1.3m papers taken over the year by 888,000 entrants.

More than one in three of those studying maths took two or more exams, with 10% taking three papers. Two students were recorded as taking eight different maths exams over the course of the year, while 1,000 students aged 15 or younger took four papers.

"There is limited educational benefit in multiple entries. We believe the accountability system is putting pressure on schools and teachers to follow this practice," said Mark Dawe, head of the OCR exam board.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that schools and pupils were being put under pressure to meet the demands of Ofsted and the government.

"As exam and test results are increasingly the only measure by which schools are judged it is no surprise some schools are entering pupils for different exams or entering them earlier. Everyone wants the best for pupils but the obsessive target-driven culture imposed on schools is stifling learning and pupil engagement," she said.

The dip in A* to C pass rates could be crucial for many schools seeking to stay above the Department for Education's increased floor standard. Falling below this triggers automatic inspection by Ofsted, and could have implications for the number of state schools vulnerable to being converted into academies on the grounds of poor performance.

This year a school will be considered below the floor standard if at least 40% of its pupils do not achieve the standard of at least five GCSEs at C or better, including English and maths, and if pupils' overall progress is not good enough in both those two subjects.

Despite the fall, the second in a row, the A* to A rate was still higher than in 2008, while the A* to C pass rate was still above the level achieved in 2009.

theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Read the full story in Guardian Education
Log in Join