UK: GCSE results are out, but schools seem more concerned with league table standings
WORLD / U.K. – With about 700,000 students in the UK finally settling in with their recent GCSE results, schools are now assessing their overall achievement.
A different GCSE
GCSE exams this year were different than they were in past years. New this year was the single testing period. Instead of being able to take a test partway through a course, in January, and then retake it in the summer, all students were required to take it in one summer sitting in May and June.
This linear examination style replaces the modular examination, where schools allow students to take their tests in January and March. This new implementation means students cannot re-sit for a paper in the same year.
Many schools used the first testing period to analyze what specifically needed to be worked on by students, and assess that for the next exam sitting. That was not an option this year.
League table standing more important?
However, some schools seem more concerned about their league table standing. The new rule also takes into consideration a student’s first and only attempt for the particular subject in the school’s overall achievement. This means, if Mary got a C for English, and an A on her second try, only the C grade will be taken into consideration for the school’s league standings.
The new rule aims to stop schools from pushing students into examination halls before they are ready, and the exercise has been effective – the number of younger students sitting for the GCSE exams below 16 years of age this year has reduced by 39%. Some schools are also able to inflate their league position standings if they could allow students to retake their exams for an improved grade that could be submitted to balloon their league standings.
For some schools, league standings affect enrollment, school fees and reputation. For other schools already in high standing, they are confident of their positions in the league. The school league standings do not affect the student’s achievement, and the government implements the first-grade-only system to ensure schools are not gaming the league and portray an inaccurate representation of the school’s ability to achieve.
Many schools argue there are many variables at play that cannot fully establish the first-grade-only system as the best reflection of a school’s standing. This begs the question – what is the purpose of the schools league table now and how does this truly benefit the students, who are affected by a school’s KPI indicators and results-driven approach? The government has in a way stem the influx of students being pushed into taking exams before they are ready, but will the weaker students get left behind?
BBC News reported in 2007 “the stated aim (of the league table) was to give parents the consumer information they needed to create a free market in school choice. Since then though, governments have found another purpose for the tables, using them as a lever to direct the school system down one particular track or another.” The DailyMail reported a study by Bristol University found “naming and shaming failing schools in league tables boosts pupils’ GCSE results by two grades.”
Making students re-sit exams doesn’t mean better grades
According to The Telegraph, Ofqual stated dual-sitting dependent schools have had C grades drop up to three times faster than schools that do not specifically utilize two sittings. Not including C grades, marks have dropped up to 20%.
Overall though, it seems that good grades (C or above) made an increase this year, for the first time in three years. C or above grades went up 0.7% to 68.8%. One of the possible factors of these changes is the change of exams counting for 60% of the final grade, and coursework counting for 40%. In previous years, it was the opposite.
Higher grades in Mathematics, drop in English marks
Good grades in maths increased by an exceptional 4.8%, while in English, they dropped by 1.9%. This drop in English is probably due to the fact students cannot get extra marks for speaking and listening. The Ofqual blog post by Glenys Stacey, Chief Regulator, understood this.
“GCSE English saw significant changes this year. Exams were taken at the end of the course. Speaking and listening results were reported separately, and the qualification was rebalanced so that exams counted for more marks than controlled assessments, marked by teachers. The impact of these changes was taken into account in the awarding process, so that overall students were not disadvantaged, or advantaged. That is why grade boundaries were generally set a few marks lower this year than last.”
Ofqual said that the exam changes would affect local level results the most. “The schools that are most likely to be affected are those that had worked out ways of getting students who struggle over the C grade line, that depended on early entries, multiple entries and generous teacher assessment. All those three have been greatly reduced or gone.”
As a whole, some improvements have been seen from the grade policy changes. It is important to note that reforms in grading, curriculum, exam structure and education in general affect students the most. A student today may hold up his certificate and ask, “What does this mean to me? What does this mean to my future employer? How does this affect my educational choices?”
What do you think – do league tables really matter in the wake of the GCSE changes?