Exam reforms could mean worse-than-expected GCSE and A-level grades


Schools have been warned that their GCSE and A-levels could be worse than expected this summer because of reforms to the exam system.

Ofqual, the exams regulator has published an open letter to all schools and colleges telling them that the overhaul of this summer’s exams was “likely” to produce markedly different results in some schools. National results are also likely to be affected by the reforms.

GCSE reforms have meant students have been forced to sit exams at the end of the course rather than taking modular tests throughout two years of study. Meanwhile changes that mean only the first attempt at a GCSE will count towards school league tables.

The letter, from Glenys Stacey, head of Ofqual, said: “Collectively these changes in the student mix are likely to result in a little more variability than usual, school by school. When qualifications change we would expect individual school results to be more variable, because the changes will have different impacts in different schools and in different subjects.

“It is not possible to predict at this stage how the national picture will look: these changes do not pull results universally in one direction or another, but together they are likely to affect the national picture to some extent.”

Some schools will be more affected by the reforms than others, with some likely to achieve better results under the new system and others scoring worse.

The changes have already had a dramatic effect on exam entry patterns. Many more students sat GCSE maths exams this summer than last summer. Previously many of these students would have sat maths module exams in January or March. Meanwhile at AS and A-level, the removal of the January exam session has meant that entries are much higher this summer.

GCSE English exams will also put greater emphasis on exams and give less reward for coursework, which is likely to affect some students’ results, Ofqual said.

The regulator said the exam boards would be expected to report to Ofqual if this summer’s results are significantly different from the boards’ predictions. Ms Stacey said Ofqual would challenge the results if the boards could not explain the disparity.

Ms Stacey said: “Our priority this summer, as in previous years, is to hold standards steady so that in general, students in 2014 are not advantaged or disadvantaged because of the changes to the qualifications.”

The exam reforms will mainly affect schools and colleges in England but some of the changes also apply in Wales and Northern Ireland.