2017 entry data: things to look out for

Today we published a report showing the provisional entries for GCSE, AS and A levels in England this summer. We collected this data in April, so it’s not complete, but it does give a good guide to the sorts of changes in entry patterns that we expect to see when results are reported in August.

This summer there are some significant changes to the entry patterns in some subjects, reflecting changes to the qualifications as well as wider policy changes. In many cases, that means we should be cautious in August when comparing overall results in 2016 and 2017.

Here are some of the key changes, and what they might mean for results headlines in August.

GCSE English language (9 to 1 and A* to G)

Overall entries for GCSE English and English language are up by 52%, but that entry is split between the new 9 to 1 qualifications and the outgoing A* to G qualifications (available only for post-16 students). There are more year 10s taking English language a year early (nearly 15,000 in total this year). There are also more year 11 students taking GCSE English language this year (entries are up 60% to 536,000), now that international GCSEs in this subject no longer count in school accountability measures.

GCSE English literature (9 to 1)

Overall entries are up 48% on 2016. These increases are likely to be a result of accountability measures (Progress 8 and Attainment 8) that double count the better of the English language/English literature grades, providing both are taken. As a result, it is likely that there are schools who are now entering all their year 11 students for English literature, whereas previously they only entered their higher ability students. These changes have implications for national results in August.

On the reformed 9 to 1 GCSEs we said that exam boards will use statistics to set standards so that:

  • broadly the same proportion of students will achieve grade 7 and above as achieved grade A and above in 2016
  • broadly the same proportion of students will achieve grade 4 and above as achieved grade C and above in 2016
  • the bottom of grade 1 will align with the bottom of grade G in 2016

But this assumes a stable entry. Where the entry changes significantly, as it has in English language and English literature, then the overall results in August will reflect any changes in the cohort. If the 2017 students have higher prior attainment than 2016 students, then results will be higher, whereas if the 2017 students have lower prior attainment than in 2016, results will be lower. If, as we expect, the increase in entry for English literature means that more lower ability students are taking English literature this summer, then we would expect overall results to be lower.

Schools that have changed their entry approach (for example by entering all year 11 students this year for English literature) are likely to see more variation in their year-on-year results, because they won’t be comparing like with like. In general, we still expect a student who would have got at least a C in last year’s exams to get at least a 4 this year.

GCSE mathematics

The entry is relatively stable (up by 1%) and so we would expect results in August for 16-year-olds to be similar to those in 2016. This year, for the first time we have collected data on the entry by tier. Schools have previously told us that they were more cautious in entering students for higher tier this year. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the overlapping grades are higher in the new qualifications (C and D in the previous qualifications; 5 and 4 in the new ones). The provisional data shows that this year 53% of students are entered for higher tier. We don’t have this data (or similar) collected at the same time last year, but other data suggests that in recent years a larger proportion of students was entered for higher tier.

Post-16 entries in GCSE English and maths

These are the final re-sit opportunities on the outgoing (A* to G) qualifications. Entries have increased by 23% in English and 6% in maths. This summer, the exam boards will use an approach similar to the one used in November 2016 in these qualifications, using predictions for re-sitting students, based on their average GCSE grade across all subjects they entered in summer 2016. Anyone making comparisons with previous years’ results will need to be careful that they compare like with like; that is compare 2017 post-16 results with post-16 students’ results in previous years.

GCSE science

The drop in entries (by 26% to 284,000) is a direct result of structural changes to the GCSE science suite. This is the last year of the outgoing specifications and students in 2018 will take new 9 to 1 combined science or 9 to 1 separate sciences. In recent years, many schools have entered students for science at the end of year 10 and additional science at the end of year 11. This summer, there are very few year 10 students taking GCSE science (less than 1000 this year, compared to 129,000 in 2016), but the year 11 entry has increased by 12%.

AS level

Entries in 2016 dropped by 14% and this year they have fallen by a further 42%, as more of the available AS qualifications are ‘de-coupled’ and therefore AS results no longer count towards A level grades. AS entries are now lower than A level entries overall. These large changes could mean that overall results in August for AS are very different from previous years as the nature of the cohort taking the exams may have changed.

A level

In general, A level entries are relatively stable. This year, there are 13 reformed A level subjects and we have already published information on how standards will be set as well as information about how A* will be set in these new linear A levels. Given the stability in entries, we expect that results will be generally stable, although individual schools and colleges may see greater year-on-year variability in the reformed subjects, as they get used to the changes.

Cath Jadhav
Associate Director, Standards and Comparability

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