Thursday 23 August 2012

GCSE Results Fall for the First Time

Over a million students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their GCSE results today and for the first time ever, overall results have fallen.

Since replacing the old O-Level and CSE exams in 1988, the percentage of GCSE papers awarded an A*-C grade has been rising inexorably, year on year.

Today's GCSE results show that 69.4% of entries earned grades A*-C, compared with 69.8% last year.

The proportion of pupils receiving the top grades (A and A*) has also fallen for the first time, down from 23.2% to 22.4%.

As with the A-Level exams, England's exams regulator, Ofqual, has told exam boards they would have to justify the overall pass rate if it were significantly different from previous years. This has happened in an attempt to address concerns of "dumbing down" and to ensure results were comparable,

However, this system, known as "comparable outcomes", has created a furore in itself. There have been accusations that the exam boards had been asked by the Department for Education to fix the results.

Teaching unions are not particularly happy about any drop in apparent standards. They claim that any rise in grades is the result of better teaching and better-prepared students.

In most subjects, including maths, there was a fall in the overall proportion of A*-C grades, but the fall was particularly marked in English. Many teachers claim that students have been marked down by an entire grade in English compared with the results that teachers had predicted.

Countering this, the Joint Council for Qualifications, which publishes the annual results, said that the fall in A*-C English results was partly down to more candidates sitting the exam during the winter exam season.

This set of results is set against the backdrop of considerable changes being planned for GCSEs. As of September, the GCSE exams set by the English exam boards will no longer be modular. Instead, students will sit a single final exam. In addition, GCSE exams in English literature, geography, history and religious education will be assessed for spelling, punctuation and grammar. These new strictures will affect those sitting their GCSEs in the summer of 2014.

Schools in Wales and Northern Ireland will continue to be able to opt for modular GCSEs.

Eventually, Michael Gove has expressed an interest in returning to an exam more similar to the old O-Level. Some in education are even questioning whether it is necessary to take formal exams at all at the age of 16.

Thursday 16 August 2012

A-Level Results Day. Top Grades Down.

It's that time of year again. A-Level results came out this morning, with many students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland able to find out their grades online from 7 a.m.

The headline from today's set of results is that the percentage of students being awarded the top grades (A and A*) is down, for the first time in 20 years. Today, 26.6% of A-level entries achieved the top two grades, compared with 27% last year. The overall pass rate, meanwhile, continues to rise, for a 30th consecutive year.

The drop in the percentage of top grades was particularly pronounced in Northern Ireland, although overall the performance there is still better than average, with 31.9% of entrants being awarded top grades, down from last year's figure of 34.5%, according to figures from the Northern Irish exam board CCEA.

Since 2010, the exam watchdog Ofqual has been telling exam boards they must be able to account for any upward movement in grades, to show that it was a result of a real improvement in performance.

Girls continue to gain slightly better grades than boys, but this year boys obtained more A* grades, with 8% of entries gaining the top grade, compared with 7.9% for girls.

Once again, maths and science subjects proved popular, with increases in the number of entrants, while the trend for modern languages is still downwards.

For many of the 330,000 students getting their results today, A-Level results will determine whether they can go to their chosen university.

The number of applications for university places is about 7% down this year, following the rise in tuition fees to a maximum of £9000 in England. Students in other parts of the UK may not have to pay so much. Northern Irish students staying in Northern Ireland will face no rise in fees. The Welsh government has agreed to subsidise students facing higher fees in other parts of the UK. Scottish students, who do not sit A-Levels, pay no fees at all if they choose to attend Scottish universities.

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