Thursday 22 August 2013

GCSE Results Fall Again

English: "Methody" Methodist College...
"Methody" Methodist College Belfast. Once again, Northern Ireland pupils obtained better results than their counterparts in England and Wales. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The GCSE results for 600,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, released today by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), show a small, but significant drop in the number of A*-C passes.

Grades have fallen for the second year in a row with 68.1% of exam entries being graded between an A* and a C - a fall of about 1.3% on last year. In maths, the fall was 0.8 percentage points from 58.8% to 58%.

The overall proportion getting the top grades A* or A fell from 22.4% to 21.3%. And the overall pass rate also fell marginally, for the first time since the GCSE exam was introduced 25 years ago.

One factor that may have contributed to the drop in grades is the increasing trend for schools to enter pupils for certain GCSEs - particularly maths and English - one or even two years early. The JCQ have criticised this approach, claiming that pupils are missing out on the chance to gain better grades - and on the extra years of learning.

In addition, there is a trend for pupils to be entered for more than one exam in the same subject, whether it be for different boards or different tiers. There has also been a marked increase in the number of pupils taking the IGCSE, as well as the traditional GCSE. In these ways pupils can take the best result, but the overall statistics are skewed downwards.

Critics say that these trends are a result of schools chasing places in league tables, including the new English Baccalaureate, which rates schools on the number of pupils getting good GCSEs in a range of core subjects.

There was a big fall in pupils getting top grades in the science subjects, following the introduction of new syllabuses and exams.

Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that schools, students and teachers are working hard in a constantly changing and turbulent environment. He also pointed out that piecemeal changes to the exam system make it impossible to compare grades from one year to the next.

Last year the grading of the English GCSE resulted in a legal challenge by some schools, when the grading standards were deemed to have changed between the January and June exams.

Only in Northern Ireland was there a rise in grades. A total of 28% of entries were graded A or A*, compared with 21.2% in England.

With the modular system soon to be scrapped in England, Northern Ireland still has to decide whether or not to continue with modules, or follow England's lead with a single end-of-course exam. Wales has already decided to continue with a modular system for GCSEs.

Thursday 15 August 2013

A-Level Results Show Slight Fall in Top Grades

More than 300,000 A-Level students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have found out their A-level and AS results today, and join the scramble for university places.

The results, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), show that there has been a fall in the proportion of A-levels awarded top grades for the second year in a row, after three decades of steady increases. 26.3% of all entries were given A or A* grades this year, a slight fall from 26.6% in 2012. Previously, the proportion getting top grades had risen each year since 1980.

The national pass rate rose marginally to 98.1%. This has also risen for about 30 years.

Continuing recent trends, more students are taking A-levels in maths and science and there is a continued fall in those taking languages. Maths rose by just under 3% and further maths by 4.5%.

Girls are still ahead of boys when looking at the top grades, A or A* (26.7% for girls compared with 25.9% for boys), but boys this year were more likely to get the A* grade (7.9% of boys' entries, compared with 7.4% for girls).

The university admissions body Ucas has said that 385,910 students have already been accepted by UK universities, 31,600 more than at the same point last year.

The UK government claims its reforms to make it easier for universities to take on the students that they want to recruit have sped up the process of accepting students. Under these changes, universities in England are being allowed to admit as many top-performing students (gaining ABB or more) as they want to. For students with lower results, universities are allocated a quota of undergraduates they can recruit. Last year, thousands of course places were left unfilled.

The change was introduced to allow the most popular universities to expand. It came in alongside higher tuition fees, which rose to a maximum of £9,000 a year from autumn 2012.

Students in Northern Ireland continue to perform best. 83.5% of entries here scored between an A* and a C and 30.7% were awarded the top grades of A or A*. In Wales, these figures are 75.2% and 22.9% respectively and in England 77% and 26.3%.

From 2015 the government plans to introduced major changes to A-levels. The AS-level will no longer count towards the final A-level grade and, with modules being phased out, all exams will be taken at the end of the two year course.

Congratulations to all those who gained the grades they were looking for today - and best of luck to everybody looking for a university place.