Pupils entered for GCSE exams a year early are likely to get lower grades, Ofqual chief warns

Headteachers predict 'significant turbulence' in this year’s results

Education Editor

Thousands of pupils put in for their GCSE exams a year early are likely to get lower grades, the head of the exams regulator Ofqual is warning.

Chief executive Glenys Stacey's warning comes as headteachers talk of “significant turbulence” in this year’s results as several key factors point to a drop in pass rates as 600,000 teenagers receive their results this morning.

Figures show record numbers of pupils have been put in for their exams early - in maths around 23 per cent of the cohort are sitting the exam in Year 10 instead of 11 - in the hope they can bank a crucial C grade pass and then concentrate on other subjects.

However, the trend - which is worrying ministers - is one of several this year likely to herald a drop in the pass rate at least  in key subject areas. Early indications show pass rates in physics, chemistry and biology - where papers have been harder this year - are falling.

In a blog on the exam regulator Ofqual’s website, Mrs Stacey, warns: “Younger students may well be less ready for GCSEs than those who are a year older and so they may not do so well.”

In addition, pupils put in for multiple exams in the same subject (for the same reason - may also be in the same boat. “They may perform differently in each one or they may be more or less prepared,” she said.

Labour produced a document saying some pupils had been entered for maths exams up to seven times in an attempt to ensure they got a crucial C grade pass in at least one. “There has been a dramatic increase in GCSE maths multiple entries over the last two years,” said its education spokesman Stephen Twigg, “and Ofqual are warning that the numbers are set to rise again this year.”

It estimated the cost of putting pupils in for multiple exams was nearly £11 million last year.

Another reason for a potential drop in pass is the fact that science exams (biology, physics and chemistry) were more difficult to pass this year so that “logically we are expecting a small drop in achievement”, she added.

Results on Thursday are expected to confirm a drift towards taking more traditional academic subjects - prompted by Education Secretary Michael Gove’s English Baccalaureate ranking for league tables. This, again, is likely to make it harder for some pupils to secure top grade passes. Mrs Stacey says: “With the increased popularity of the traditional subjects we can expect that some students may will find it more challenging than others.”

In her blog, Mrs Stacey also reveals Ofqual has insisted to the exam boards that they need to set grade boundaries in maths “that reflect quality of work expected at key grades”.

That follows a letter sent to the exam boards earlier this year in which Ofqual warned: “Several key grade boundaries were set at such low marks that candidates’ performance did not sufficiently reflect the relevant grade descriptions.”

The language is similar to that used over English last year when the grade boundaries for those sitting the exam in June were raised because of a surge in candidates achieving top grade passes in January. A subsequent investigation found the barrier had been set too low. 

This year, the grade boundaries are based on those set for last June’s candidates - prompting headteachers to fear some candidates expecting a C grade pass will be disappointed.

The Association of School and College Leaders warned that all these factors pointed to “significant turbulence” in this year’s exam results.

Brian Lightman, its general secretary, said the exam system was in a “serious state”.  It was no longer possible to assume that children taking the same subject years apart would get the same grade for the same standard of work.

“It’s going to be very difficult for universities, for employers, for parents and students to understand when the exam system is going through this constant change and there are more changes down the line.”

Headteachers are worried that the changes will make it harder for them to reach minimum government targets for performance at GCSE - raised this year from 35 per cent of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes to 40 per cent.

As a result, experts are warning that more than 200 schools could fail to meet them - facing them with the prospect of an enforced inspection by education standards watchdog Ofsted and an enforced change to academy status with a new sponsor being appointed to run the school and the head being sacked.

Ministers are understood to be concerned over the practice of putting pupils in for exams early and entering them for several exams in the same subject - and are considering asking education standards watchdog Ofsted to look into the subject.

A drop in the pass rate would be the second year in succession that grades have fallen. Last year the percentage of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes fell from 69.8 per cent in 2011 to 69.4 per cent.  Maths and science subjects were amongst those dropping.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “Abuse of multiple entries is one of the reasons why this Government’s reforms of GCSEs are so badly needed.

“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.”

She said changes to league table measures would give schools credit for each extra grade a pupil achieved and not just focus on the C/D borderline and added: “Ofsted now challenge the use of inappropriate early and multiple entry to GCSE exams during inspection.

“We are considering further action to discourage this practice.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

AER Teachers: Early Years Teaching Assistant Newham

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Outstanding East London primary school seeking an Ea...

AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assistants

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assist...

Royal College of Music: Assistant to the Deputy Director & the Director of Research

£24,451 - £27,061 per annum: Royal College of Music: The Royal College of Musi...

Guru Careers: Marketing Analyst / Optimisation Analyst

£35 - £45k DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Optimisation Analyst is...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory