Schools in England are braced for a bumpy crop of GCSE results on Thursday, with this year’s performance given a degree of uncertainty by a widespread exam boycott that took place five years ago.
A fall in top maths grades is expected but the overall results have been made more difficult to calculate by the aftermath of action by teaching unions protesting against standardised testing.
GCSE grades are linked to how the same cohort of pupils performed in their key stage two exams at the end of primary school – but about a quarter of this year’s GCSE entrants missed the key stage two exams in 2010 due to the boycott.
The exam regulator Ofqual said it was confident that the large amount of missing data would not affect its ability to award consistent grades.
“Research by the exam boards shows virtually no difference in the results achieved compared to predictions, between those schools who did take the tests in 2010 and those that did not, so we can be confident that the predictions to be used this summer are sufficiently reliable, as in previous years,” Ofqual said.
The affected key stage two tests showed a fall in the proportion of pupils gaining top grades in maths but a rise in those doing well in English.
Any overall fall in GCSE maths results would have a knock-on effect on the number of state schools defined as failing. To avoid falling into this category, schools must have a minimum of 40% of pupils who pass the government’s benchmark of five GCSE grades of C or above, including English and maths.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers union, said: “Pupils and teachers have already had to prepare for these examinations burdened by the anxiety, uncertainty and workload generated by the government’s reforms to GCSEs.
“GCSEs are not easy options, they have never been dumbed down and they have retained their value. Public examinations are pressurised and stressful for all involved and this needs to be recognised and respected.”
About 600,000 pupils in England will receive their GCSE results on Thursday morning, with the big picture likely to show a continued shift towards a narrower range of academic subjects including history, geography, languages and sciences.
Last year saw a drop in the numbers of entries in subjects not included in the government’s favoured English baccalaureate (Ebacc) measure, partly as a result of government moves to disqualify multiple entries and resits.
This summer’s GCSE results come as research by Oxford University showed that most ethnic minority groups in England were now attaining GCSE results that are as good or better than their peers from white British backgrounds.
The research by Prof Steve Strand looked at GCSE results between 1991 and 2013 and found that children from Indian and Chinese ethnic backgrounds outperformed all other groups. GCSE grades among students from Bangladeshi and black African backgrounds also improved so that they did better than pupils from white British backgrounds overall.
Black Caribbean and mixed white and black Caribbean students were also seen to have substantially closed the gap in academic attainment with white British students, despite a higher proportion coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In 2004, only 24% of black Caribbean pupils achieved C grades or better in five or more GCSE subjects, including English and maths. But the proportion had more than doubled to 53% by 2013, compared with 60% for white British students.
Strand said that in the late 1980s, children from well-off backgrounds were seven times more likely to get good grades than those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but were now only three times as likely to do so.
“The gap is still too large but the data shows it is possible to reduce the seemingly intractable social and economic divide,” Strand said. “We have to hope that redistributive funding, such as the pupil premium grant, can bring more progress in closing gaps that still exist.”
Meanwhile, the universities admissions service Ucas reported that 467,110 applicants had gained undergraduate places following last week’s A-level results – an increase of 3% compared with 2014.
This article was written by Richard Adams Education editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 20th August 2015 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010