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.

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