Ministers plan clampdown on pupils taking GCSEs early, after dramatic rise in 15-year-olds taking exam was largely responsible for record drop in pass rate

15-year-olds’ results were around 10 per cent down on those sitting the exam at 16

Ministers are planning a clampdown on schools entering their pupils for GCSEs a year early after it emerged that a dramatic rise in the number of 15-year-olds taking the exam was largely responsible for a drop in the pass rate.

Figures showed a total of 806,000 entries from 15-year-olds - up 39 per cent from last year as heads tried every trick in the book to gain crucial C grade passes for pupils to boost their league table rankings.  On average, the 15-year-olds’ results were around 10 per cent down on those sitting the exam at 16.

The Government said the practice “should not happen”, adding that its plan to ban pupils from resitting their exams would help stop it being used as an attempt to “game” the system.

Overall, results showed a 1.3 percentage point drop in the number of pupils gaining five A* to C grade passes to 68.1 per cent - the biggest drop in the 25-year history of the exam. A* grade passes were also down by 0,5 percentage points to 6.8 per cent.

A closer analysis of the results, though, showed the pass rate amongst 16-year-olds had remained largely maintained - in English 3.7 per cent of students obtained A* grade passes, the same as last year, while there was a drop to 1.6 per cent amongst 15-year-olds. A similar picture emerged in maths where 4.1 per cent of 15-year-olds obtained an A* grade compared to 5.7 per cent of 16-year-olds.  In terms of A* to C grade passes in maths, there was a slight improvement amongst 16-year-olds from 62 per cent to 62.1 per cent.

“What we’re trying to say today is early entry doesn’t benefit the students,” said Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board.  “These qualifications are designed for 16-year-olds and there is a 10 per cent difference in the pass rate between them and 15-year-olds.  That’s not good for the students.”

In the past, schools have entered their high flyers - widely tipped to get A* or A grade passes - early but a growing number now enter borderline C/D candidates in the hope they can bank a C grade pass and then concentrate on other subjects. If they fail (and 58.1 per do gain a C grade), they can always take the exam again, it is argued. 

Heads have adopted this approach to avoid missing the Government’s minimum target of 40 per cent of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes including maths and English - a miss that could cost them their job. For the same reasons, schools are putting pupils in for multiple exams in the same subject – an analysis of this practice showed two pupils, described as “poor souls” by Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board, were put in for eight different maths exams.

“I don’t justify double entry but I can understand it,” said Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

The practice was heavily criticised by the CBI whose director of policy Katja Hall said: “The sheer scale of multiple and early entries is astonishing.  Employers don’t want exam robots - they want young people who are academically stretched, rounded and grounded.

“Turning schools into exam factories and cramming two years’ syllabus into one benefits no-one.  A GCSE should be an assurance of ability, not a consolation prize for surviving months of continual testing and retesting.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “Schools should not be entering children for exams early, and then for re-sits, or other exams in the same subject. It is not good for pupils and should not happen.

“It is clearly a worry that some schools might be putting pupils in for early entry so they can bank a C rather than studying the subject for another year and perhaps getting a higher grade.”

Exams regulator Ofqual said: “The effect of early entry in particular is striking and appears to be largely responsible  for the drop in overall pass rates.  If you look at the results for 16-year-olds there is a more stable picture.”

Ministers believe moving to end-of-course exams and banning resits - as is envisaged under Education Secretary Michael Gove’s GCSE reforms - will stop schools “gaming” the system.

In addition, they plan to reform exam league tables - scrapping the five A* to C grade ranking for schools. However, plans to replace it with a new threshold revealing the percentage of pupils obtaining A* to C grade passes in maths and English were described as a “serious mistake” by Graham Stuart, the influential Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee.

Today's results showed a drop in the pass rate in all three core subjects at GCSE - although, in science, this was expected as chemistry, physics and biology papers had been made harder.

In science, the percentage of pupils getting A* or A grade passes in biology, chemistry and physics dropped by 5.8 per cent, six per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively.  However, a drift to the IGCSE - the international equivalent of GCSE based on traditional O-level lines - by many of the country’s better performing schools partly explained this.  If the results from both exams were taken together, the drop was 2.9 per cent, 3.6 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively - more in line with what would have been expected as a result of the exams being made tougher.

Girls continued to outperform boys  - despite boys moving ahead at A* grade at A-level.  At A* in GCSE, 8.3 per cent of girls obtained the grade while only 5.3 per cent of boys did so,  At A* to C grade, the figures were 72.3 per cent and 63.7 per cent respectively.

Many heads say they feel forced to take action like early or multiple entry as they strive to reach Mr Gove’s improved minimum target for results at a time when Ofqual is insisting results should be in line with last year under its “comparative outcomes” policy.

Nick Weller, chairman of the Independent Academies Association, described Ofqual’s policy as “fundamentally flawed” and “corrupting what used to be a relatively fair and reliable qualification”. “It is in all our interests to get back to a credible examination system,” he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee