December 9 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, August 22, 2013
With thousands of teenagers finally due to tear open their GCSE results envelopes this morning, education correspondent Martin George examines why 2013 may be a year of “unprecedented uncertainty”, and what this could mean for our schools.
Tougher exams, alternative exams, early entries and multiple entries have combined to create “unprecedented uncertainty” among headteachers about what today’s GCSE results will bring, according to one teachers’ union.
Last year saw the first fall in GCSE grades, with English results subject to particular controversy after grade boundaries were raised between exams sat in January and June.
Some have predicted that 2013 could see a similar pattern, with overall results, and particularly those in maths and science, falling again.
If these predictions come true, a number of Norfolk schools could be pushed below the minimum standard demanded by the government.
The maths results could be particularly significant, as schools need to have more than 40pc of pupils
achieving at least five A*-C grades, including English and maths, to avoid falling under the government’s “floor standard”.
Schools below the floor could be subject to intervention, including conversion into a sponsored academy or the removal of their headteacher.
According to the 2012 government league tables, nine state-funded Norfolk schools and colleges saw 45pc or fewer pupils achieve five GCSEs at A*-C, including English and maths.
They included the Open Academy in Norwich, on 40pc, Thetford Academy, on 38pc, King’s Lynn Academy, on 35pc, and Swaffham Hamond’s High School, on 19pc.
In a briefing this summer, Ofqual, the exams and qualifications regulator, outlined four reasons why today’s results could look different to last year, even though it maintained “the standard set will be the same as in summer 2012”.
It said more pupils entered GCSEs in year 10 or earlier, instead of the usual year 11, with the proportion of early entries in maths increasing from 18pc in summer 2012 to 23pc, and those taking English early rising from 8pc to 11pc.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: “As GCSE maths is so important to schools, some enter pupils early in the hope they can notch up a C, and if they don’t they get another bite a year later.”
Ofqual warned that if pupils who are not ready to take GCSEs early perform badly, overall results could fall.
It said the entries for international GCSEs (iGCSE), which were originally designed for overseas pupils, have increased significantly this year.
Until 2010, they could not be used in league tables, but iGCSE English entries increased more than four-fold, from 18,000 in summer 2012 to 78,000 this year, while those for maths rose from 34,000 to 45,000.
The Association of School and College Leaders said schools that entered pupils for the iGCSE “were of the view that students were going to get higher grades than in GCSE”, although exam boards which set iGCSEs said they are “academically rigorous” and they maintain standards with the equivalent GCSE.
Science is another area where results could differ from last year, with new GCSE qualifications in biology, chemistry, physics, additional science and additional applied science all designed to be more challenging.
Ofqual said it was “expecting a small drop in achievements overall rather than anything more substantial”.
The body also said there had been an increase in pupils sitting more than one qualification in the same subject, particularly in maths.