I am sure many of you reading this blog will already be focussed on next summer’s GCSE and A level exam series, and first awarding of more new qualifications. Below are a few points of potential interest related to some of those reformed subjects, but before coming to them I have been asked how GCSE awards will be managed this November.
For many years there has been a November series which provides an opportunity for students to re-sit English and maths GCSEs. It’s mainly for those students that didn’t get the results they were aiming for in the previous summer, and it is now only available to those aged 16 or older at the start of the school year. This November will see the first awards of the new 9 to 1 GCSE qualifications at this time of year. This means that it’s the first time grade 9 has been awarded in a November series.
In the November series, exam boards use predictions for 17-year-old (Year 12) re-sitting students, based on their average GCSE grade in the previous summer, to guide the setting of grade boundaries. This November they will do the same, at grades 7, 4 and 1. Those grade boundaries will then apply to all students.
When it comes to setting the grade 9 boundary, we expect that there will be very few students in November aiming for a grade 9. The tailored approach formula was intended to be used only for the first year, and using the formula would be difficult if there are only small numbers of students getting a grade 7 or above. The approach we have agreed with the exam boards is a little different therefore. Exam boards will look at how far (in terms of marks) grade 9 was above grade 7 in the summer, and use that as a starting point. Senior examiners will review scripts around that mark and compare them to grade 9 scripts from the summer. This means that the standard set for grade 9 in the summer will be maintained in November.
Summer 2018 sees a further round of new qualifications being awarded for the first time. Our overall approach to setting and maintaining standards is unchanged for 2018. We will use statistics to guide awarding; to anchor standards at grades 7, 4 and 1 to grades A, C and G in the old qualifications, so that the students in 2018 are not disadvantaged by being the first to sit the new qualifications. There are some subject specific points of note.
In 2018 students will take separate sciences – biology, chemistry and physics – or a new double award in combined science. This is the only double award in the new 9 to 1 GCSEs, and it will be reported on a 17-point grade scale: from 9-9, 9-8, 8-8 through to 1-1. Historically, the cohort taking the separate sciences has been more able and therefore the proportions of students at A and C have been higher than for science and additional science. If we see a similar pattern of entries to the new qualifications, then we would expect to see a higher proportion of students in separate sciences achieve grade 7 and above, compared to the proportion achieving 7-7 and above in combined science.
We also know that historically the proportions of students at A and C in science and additional science have been different, and that the cohorts entering science and additional science have also been different. For example, not all students who entered for science also entered for additional science. In anchoring the standard at 7-7, 4-4 and 1-1, we will be considering with the exam boards how best to reflect these differences in a way that’s fair to all students. We’ll be able to say more in the new year about how this will work next summer.
For those GCSE subjects being awarded for the first time in 2018, we will use the tailored approach formula for setting grade 9, as we did for English language, English literature and maths in summer 2017. For subsequent years, our intention has always been to move to using predictions to carry forward the standard at grade 9. So grade 9 in English language, English literature and maths in summer 2018 will be set using predictions, in the same way as grades 7, 4 and 1.
A level maths
First awards for the new A levels have, so far, taken place after the first two-year course has finished. A level maths is unusual, in that many students take it at the end of Year 12 and then go on to take A level further maths at the end of Year 13. The new A level maths course has only been taught since September 2017, but it will be awarded for the first time next summer, in order to cater for those students who want to take it at the end of Year 12. So we are discussing with exam boards the best way to set appropriate standards for this cohort. Again, we’ll be able to say more about that in the new year.