Looking back on last week, the story around GCSE results feels different this year. I hope people think that Ofqual and the exam boards did a good job setting out what it all meant, and what was behind the headline figures. If you haven’t seen it, I do recommend a look at the briefing note we put up on our website.
While the overall results were down the changes to the choices being made about when to enter students for GCSEs had a significant impact, particularly the increase in students being entered early.
But standards were held steady. If you look at the results for the 16-year-olds – the year group the qualifications are designed for – results went up very slightly in the key subjects Maths and English.
People can have more confidence in these results than perhaps they have done in years gone by, because of the work we are doing as independent regulator. We are determined to make sure standards are carried forward from one year to the next and are consistent across exam boards.
And, while I am in danger of repeating myself endlessly on this point, this is simply us doing our job. There is no political influence or agenda.
As people consider the results, I can see there is still some misunderstanding about how grade boundaries are set, and indeed our approach to regulating GCSEs and A levels.
We have set out how all of this works on our website – you can find the information on the page here. In brief, grade boundaries are set after each assessment, based on the level of difficulty and the performance of the students. It is usual for different grade boundaries to be set for different exam series in order to maintain consistent standards.
Statistics are used to generate predictions about the results to help guide examiners’ judgements when setting the grade boundaries. If the difference between the actual results and the predictions exceed pre-determined levels - the tolerances applied - we require the exam boards to report this to us and explain why. This summer, of the 280 GCSE qualifications awarded, 57 were awarded ‘outside of tolerance’, either above or below predictions, as the exam boards were able to provide evidence as to why this should be. The focus is on achieving consistent standards, using all the evidence available.
As I have said, changes to the entry patterns for GCSEs were significant this year. We welcome the debate that is now underway on when it is best to enter students for GCSEs, and how many times. The figures we and exam boards have been able to provide are striking. The proportion of entries from 15-year-olds was up by nearly 40 per cent. In GCSE Maths, the total of entries across the year was 1,326,003 – to put this in context, the group of 16-year-olds totalled 678,000. The exam boards presented a breakdown of how many times students had been entered. A (very small) number had been entered eight times.
The Government’s announcement on changes to the accountability measures for schools is expected soon. There is great opportunity here to move away from some of the perverse incentives that currently exist. We at Ofqual are waiting with great anticipation.
I hope you enjoyed the Bank Holiday, and the weather was kind where you were. Back to work now, with a focus very much on the future. We are entering a period of significant reform. May I take this opportunity to remind you that our consultation on GCSE reform is still open until Tuesday, September 3rd. Please take part. Your views and ideas are important.