Ofsted asked to discourage GCSE early entry


Education Secretary Michael Gove has warned of the dangers of entering pupils early for GCSEs before they are ready.

Around a quarter of pupils sat GCSEs in English and maths before the age of 16 in 2010, with numbers rising five-fold in just three years
But it is claimed that the move often results in pupils achieving a lower grade and receiving less tuition in core subjects in the last few years of compulsory schooling.
Mr Gove has now written to the chief inspector at Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to ask him to examine how the practice can be “discouraged”.

Mr Gove said that taking a GCSE early “can be beneficial where it is undertaken as part of a planned programme of accelerated progression through to A level and beyond”. But he warned it has become a damaging trend that is harming the interests of many pupils.

Department for Education research shows that:

  • In 2007 there were 67,000 early entries in English and maths GCSEs – only two per cent of pupils entered English early while only five per cent of pupils entered maths early.
  • In 2010 the number of early entries rose to 326,000 – 24 per cent of pupils took English early while 27 per cent of pupils took maths early.

Mr Gove said the research looked at the impact of the practice on attainment and found that "for many of these pupils early GCSE entry can be detrimental to their overall performance”.

  •  In 2010, 29 per cent of early entrants got an A*, A or B in maths GCSE – compared with 37 per cent of all entrants, and 41 per cent of end-of-course entrants.
  • In 2010, 30 per cent of early entrants got an A*, A or B in English GCSE – compared with 41 per cent of all entrants, and 45 per cent of end-of-course entrants.
  • Higher attaining state schools are less likely to enter pupils early than lower attaining schools. For example there were fewer pupils entering early in grammar schools than there were in other state schools.

Mr Gove said: "This suggests that candidates who enter early perform worse overall than those who do not, even after re-sits are taken into account.

"It seems likely that candidates are being entered before they are ready, and ‘banking’ a C grade where their performance at Key Stage 2 would suggest that if they had continued to study the subject and taken the GCSE at the end of Year 11 they could have achieved a top grade.

"This is of particular concern in mathematics, where there is high progression from A*/A grade at GCSE to A level, but low progression from grades B and C."

The research also shows that pupils who achieved an A*-C grade were less likely to be given the opportunity to re-take and potentially achieve a higher grade. For instance, for those who took maths GCSE at the end of Year 10, a year before the end of their course:

  • 98 per cent who got a D re-took.
  • 76 per cent who got a C re-took.
  • 63 per cent who got a B re-took.

Lat year, Andrew Hall, chief executive of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, said: "Our conjecture is that students might be being entered in the winter to see how they get on and then re-sitting it in summer if they don't get the grade their school thinks they should."
"If it's teachers choosing to enter their students early because they're ready to take the exam, I would say that's fine. If it's teachers feeling the pressure of league tables and entering students early to see if they get through the hurdle or not, I'm not sure that is fine."

In addition, from September, students starting GCSEs in England will take their exams at the end of their two-year courses.

At the moment, they can take GCSEs in chunks over two years - but Mr Gove believes this makes them less rigorous and narrows down what is studied.

Mr Gove said: "The trend for taking exams in modules - and for resits - has led to a downgrading of standards because it encourages teachers to "teach to the test" rather than give pupils broader knowledge of a subject."

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