As the deadline approaches for making GCSE entries, we know that schools and colleges will be thinking carefully about the appropriate tier of entry for their students in those subjects that are tiered – maths and statistics, the science suite (biology, chemistry, physics and combined science) and modern foreign languages.
We have again written to headteachers of all schools and colleges in England to remind them of the advice we’ve previously given about choosing the appropriate tier of entry, because the consequences of getting it wrong can be detrimental to students.
This is particularly important for students being entered for the higher tier, where grade 4 (4-4 in combined science) is the lowest available grade.
In 2019, just under 4,500 students were ungraded on higher tier combined science, out of a total entry of over 140,000. This is significantly less than the 11,000 students that would have been ungraded in summer 2018 if no action had been taken, but still a relatively high number.
We recommend that students who are expected to achieve a grade 4 or grade 5 should be entered for foundation tier.
There is a ‘safety net’ for those higher tier students who just miss the grade 4 (or 4-4) but it is relatively narrow – only half the width of the other grades – and if students on the higher tier fall below that they will receive an unclassified (U) result.
In contrast, if students are entered for foundation tier, then if they don’t perform as well as expected, all grades below grade 4 are available to them.
Previously, we have been aware that some membership organisations recommended the opposite. When considering this, it’s worth bearing in mind the following points.
- There is nothing on certificates that details the tier of entry. So a grade 4 on foundation tier has the same value and is indistinguishable from a grade 4 gained on the higher tier.
- Tiered exam papers have questions (usually around 20%) that are common to both foundation and higher tier. Exam boards use these to align standards between tiers, so it is no easier to get a grade 5 or 4 on one tier than another.
- There is a ‘safety net’ grade on the higher tier, for those who just miss a grade 4 (4-4 on combined science) but it is narrower than a normal grade (typically about half the number of marks). If a student misses that, they will be ungraded.
Heads of modern foreign languages will be aware of our recent announcement that we will make a small adjustment to GCSE French and GCSE German in 2020, to align the standards with those in GCSE Spanish. This will be a small adjustment at grade 4, so we strongly suggest it should not influence tier entry decisions for 2020.
Finally, don’t worry if you make entries in February and then want to make changes. All the exam boards give you time to do this free of charge. Please check with your exam board for information on their deadlines.