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GCSE results in English and maths: whatever approach is taken, here is how it should be validated

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 March 2020

John Jerrim

We found out last week that GCSE grades for the 2019/20 cohort will be based upon judgments made by teachers. It has been announced that Ofqual will be working with the sector to provide guidance on how this should be done, with one possible approach suggested by FFT Education Datalab here.

As many people have pointed out, one of the potential problems with teacher-determined grades is that they could be biased for or against certain groups (e.g. children from lower socio-economic status backgrounds receiving worse grades than their more advantaged peers). It is therefore critical that a. such predictions are underpinned by data wherever possible, and b. that the guidance issued by Ofqual (and the approach taken by teachers in making their predictions) has been validated.

This is how I suggest it could be done in English and maths.

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GCSEs are cancelled. Here’s what the government should do

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 March 2020

John Jerrim.

Yesterday, the DfE took the extraordinary step of cancelling GCSE exams. this will mean that some children will suffer the consequences throughout their lifetime.

This is obviously a very tricky situation, and any solution the government comes up with will be less than  perfect.

But, in my view, one clear option is the winner. Children in the 2019/20 cohort should be award GCSEs based upon their predicted grades.

This has the obvious advantage of being relatively cheap, quick and easy to do. It is also (arguably) unlikely to be less fair than the alternatives.

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How do GCSE grades relate to PISA scores?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital29 October 2019

John Jerrim.

When the reform to GCSEs was initially announced, under the watch of Michael Gove in 2014, the intention was to link performance on the new GCSE exams to the PISA test.

Now, as far as I am aware, this link between PISA and national examination standards has not been established. Instead we have the comparable outcomes policy [PDF] and the national reference test to ensure standards are comparable over time.

Yet the interesting question remains – how do the ‘currency’ of GCSE grades and PISA test scores translate?

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Only grade 5 and above should be considered a pass when GCSE maths and English results are released tomorrow

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 August 2017

 John Jerrim.
Tomorrow is the release of GCSE results, with this year having the added excitement of changes to how grades are being reported for certain subjects. Rather than the long-standing use of alphabetic grades (ranging from A* to U), English language and maths will be scored on a numeric (9 to 1) scale. Consequently, no-one really quite knows what to expect!
Confusion has not been helped by the Department for Education defining both grade 4 and grade 5 as the “pass” mark, and then using these for different purposes. For instance, whereas schools will require their pupils to achieve grade 5 to be included in their EBACC accountability figures, children themselves will be awarded the EBACC if they reach at least grade 4. Likewise, the leading Russell Group universities are now using different criteria; whereas UCL will require applicants to certain courses to have achieved at least grade 5 in English and maths, other (such as Manchester) are only asking for grade 4 . 
Confused? You should be! It doesn’t really make much sense, does it? But it does (more…)

GCSE and A-level results: it’s not just the grades that matter

Blog Editor, IOE Digital15 August 2017

File 20170810 27655 1a279l5
Why GCSE and A Level subject choices matter. shutterstock

Jake Anders, UCL and Catherine Dilnot, Oxford Brookes University. 
A-level results will soon be out, with more than 300,000 students eagerly waiting to find out if they’ve made the grade. Then come GCSE results, with even more students keen to find out how they’ve done.
Whether students are heading to university, into an apprenticeship or straight into employment, chances are they will all be wishing and hoping and dreaming and praying of a set of grades that will reflect their level of academic accomplishment.
For would-be university applicants, there is often a requirement that students take a particular set of subjects at A-level – and achieve a certain grade – to be in with a chance of getting a place on a degree course. To study medicine, for example it’s often required that (more…)

The GCSE debacle: what, if anything, went wrong?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital4 September 2012

 Tina Isaacs
Reading the headlines about the current GCSE furore brought me back to the heady days of September 2002 and the last major examination crisis. Teachers reported marking discrepancies in certain A level coursework modules and complained to awarding bodies and the media. The BBC news headline on 15 September 2002 stated: “Inquiry into exam fixing claims… the exams watchdog is investigating persistent complaints from head teachers that this year’s A-level results were ‘fixed’ to stop grades ballooning”. 
The story ran in the media for weeks and resulted in the Tomlinson inquiry where modules in 31 A- level subjects were re-graded. Grade boundaries changed in 18 units out of a possible 1,200, resulting in just under 2,000 students getting higher AS and A level grades. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s chairman was dismissed and the Secretary of State resigned.
This time around the crisis is more focused. Grade boundaries for GCSE English modules were changed between the January and June series, with the worst offender seemingly AQA’s English Language controlled assessment (coursework) module. Teachers marked their students’ coursework for June bearing in mind what the all important C/D grade boundary had been in January. But more marks were necessary to gain a grade C in June than in January.  Teachers were unsurprisingly upset that students who they believed would gain a comfortable C ended up with Ds.
Once again the press leapt in. For example, the Manchester Evening News reported that “Teachers say pupils have had their futures ruined after exam bosses ‘moved the goalposts’ on a crucial exam”.  The BBC ran a story under the headline “”.  Gove admits GCSE pupils treated unfairlyIt looks as though there will be an inquiry along the lines of Tomlinson’s 2002 report, possibly spearheaded by the House of Commons education select committee.
If so, I hope that it makes sure it fully understands the complexity of the issues. 2012 was the first year of the new English specification (syllabus) – actually three new specifications: English (a combination of language and literature), English language, and English literature.  There was also a new element in the specifications — Functional English. The English and English Language qualifications are tiered and foundation tier students’  grades are capped at grade C. Ofqual has introduced the notion of comparable outcomes, meaning that all things being equal, cohorts (but not necessarily individuals) with the same prior performance data should get the same outcomes in 2012 as in 2011. All of this means that setting standards in new qualifications is more demanding than maintaining standards in existing ones. 
For the January modules, the awarding bodies had less robust statistical information than they would in a mature qualification. In addition, proportionately few students’ work was graded, so awarders had less cohort information than usual.  Ofqual found that AQA’s January marking had been lenient, that is, some students who got C grades should have got D grades. Its report states that the June grades, derived from a much larger group of students, fairly represented achievement, taking into account students’ prior performance (mainly from key stage 2 tests) and awarders’ judgements. 
I’ve seen press reports claiming that  anywhere between 10,000 and 133,906 students who should have got a grade C in June received a grade D. That’s a huge discrepancy. I wish I could weigh in with my own well researched figures, but the Ofqual report was a bit light on statistics to make any definitive statements. Perhaps this is because the report was, rightly, written quickly or that Ofqual wanted to make its findings accessible to the general public. Given that a grade C in English is crucial to many young people’s futures, I wish that there had been a technical annex or two to help understand what, if anything, went wrong.