Schoolzone blog: A quick spin around exam data

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24 Oct 2014


"Government reforms to GCSEs are helping reverse the decline in the number of pupils taking rigorous academic qualifications" says yesterday's press release from the DfE. But GCSEs haven't been reformed yet - an early indication in this release that we're about to read another bit of misleading DfE spin.

EBaccs are just a way of grouping GCSEs as a measure of performance. It's the way we measure schools that have changed - but EBaccs aren't news so the DfE prefers to publicise GCSE reforms instead. What have been reformed, or - largely - removed, is vocational qualifications, which has forced schools to enter more pupils for GCSEs. The DfE claims a three percentage point rise in entries and a one percentage point rise in success - in other words, two thirds of the "new" GCSE entries have failed. Yet the DfE claim this as a success.

"The number of entries for non-EBacc qualifications have almost halved" - the DfE say: no wonder since the qualifications which lower attaining students could previously aspire to are now described by the DfE as "poor-quality": who would want to take exams in something which the government considers worthless. 2 in 3 of these students now leave school with nothing, when they could have had, say, a BTEC.

So it's small wonder then that GCSE results have fallen - by 4.7 percentage points (in state schools) - from 60.6% to 55.9%. The DfE describe says: "this follows crucial reforms to the exams to ensure they remain at a high standard". Don't they normally say that increases in performance equate to high standards?

Note that there's no mention of IGCSEs in this equation of non-GCSEs to "poor-quality". Also note that only about 60% of independent school students take GCSEs. Also note that these same schools pay little heed to EBacc and use IGCSEs instead.


The good news is that a greater proportion of students have completed A-levels in:

  • maths - up 0.3 percentage points to 10.7% of all entries (FM up 0.1)
  • biology - up 0.1 percentage points to 7.5% of all entries
  • chemistry - up 0.3 percentage points to 7.4% of all entries
  • physics - up 0.2 percentage points to 4.3% of all entries

The bad news is that the A*/A pass rate is the lowest it's ever been in any of these subjects. over the past five years, entries have risen and A*/A pass rates have fallen generally over this time. Some correlation maybe?


How are schools supposed to take government advice seriously when it comes wrapped up in all this spin? Thank goodness for the internet allowing us bloggers to put the record straight...




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