Head teachers losing confidence in GCSEs

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Ofqual's annual survey suggests four out of five head teachers and two-thirds of teachers have had their confidence knocked by the grading controversy.

In all, 80 per cent of heads say they have less confidence in the GCSE than a year ago - largely as a result of the marking fiasco which saw the grade boundary in English for a C grade raised in between January and June sitting.

The change in grade boundaries came very late by the exam boards, leaving pupils who had sat the exam at different times of the year with different grades for the same mark. This was motivated, according to Ofqual, by a need to maintain standards and fairness over time.

A detailed survey of 4,686 people for exams regulator Ofqual suggests fewer than two-thirds felt that at least 75% of GCSE students were graded correctly. Overall faith in GCSE exams appears to have been significantly affected by last year's English GCSE grading row.

English teachers' confidence was particularly badly hit with 94% reporting being adversely affected by GCSE grading.

Ministers are in the process of overhauling GCSEs with a switch to exams being taken at the end of two years rather than in stages, fewer re-sits and a reduced role for coursework. But they shelved plans to scrap them in favour of a new qualification which was to be known as the English Baccalaureate.

The survey highlighted strong feelings from professionals and the public alike about the value and importance of students gaining an A-level qualification. A large majority of heads and teachers (75% and 78% respectively) thought that all or at least two-thirds received the right grade. Confidence was less pronounced among the general public.

Brian Lightman, ASCL General Secretary, said: “In light of the problems with English last year it is understandable that confidence of teachers and heads in GCSEs has dropped. It's also understandable in light of the many changes that are being imposed. The drop in confidence is about the way the exams were marked, not about modular exams or GCSE as a qualification. In no way does it justify claims by policy makers that GCSE is not fit for purpose. What is needed is stability rather than the constant changes that only undermine confidence further.

“The high level of confidence in the A level reflects the high regard in which it is held. It is further confirmation that there is absolutely no case to decouple AS from A level, a change which has been condemned by state and independent schools, universities and almost everyone else.

“The findings about qualifications other than GCSE and A level highlight the mixed messages about vocational qualifications. We need clarity about which are government approved and we need strong public statements from senior politicians that they have parity of esteem with other qualifications. It is vital to our economy that we have a range of highly valued qualifications that meet the needs of students and employers.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: "This report shows that these concerns are widespread. New GCSEs will be introduced from 2015 - they will be more rigorous, with deeper subject content and match the best equivalent exams in the world.

"We are also making changes to A levels, also from 2015 - these will address the concerns of academics in our top universities."

School Leadership Today
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