40% drop in children sitting GCSEs early, Ofqual figures show


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The Independent Online

A dramatic drop in the number of children pushed by schools into taking their GCSE exams a year early is revealed in new statistics published by exams regulator Ofqual.

Figures show the number of pupils taking the exam after Year 10 has fallen this year from 843,000 to 504,000, a drop of 40 per cent.

The slump follows concern over a growing trend of entering pupils early to bank a C grade, which can aid schools' exam league table positions. A handful of pupils were being entered for maths exams as many as eight or nine times.

As a result, former Education Secretary Michael Gove changed the rules so only a pupil’s first attempt to sit an exam could count towards their school’s league table position.

The drop, one of a number of changes which exam boards and Ofqual admit will create more “volatility” in this year’s GCSE ands A-level results, could actually lead to an improvement in results, as pupils will hved a longer lead-in period to sitting the exam.

The figures also show a widespread decision by schools to ditch English and English Literature GCSE exams, with the number of entries falling by 28 per cent to 390,000  In the main, this is thought to be due to changes in the exam, which mean assessing speaking and listening skills, an area that some schools did well in, will no longer count towards the final exam. In addition, the end-of-year exam now counts for 60 per cent of the marks, compared with just 40 per cent last year.

Ofqual’s analysis shows schools have instead put their pupils in for the International GCSE, which is modelled along traditional O-level lines but retains speaking and listening skills for grading purposes. The number of candidates for IGCSE has risen by 96 per cent to 139,000.

All this is coupled with a move towards end-of-course exams and away from coursework, and is likely to cause fluctuations in individual schools’ results.

Exam boards plan to write an open letter to teachers, governors and parents explaining the impact all the changes might have on exam results.

“We may see a volatility in the rank-ordering of schools,” the Joint Council for Qualifications, the umbrella body representing exam boards, said.

Meanwhile, exam boards are to be told to change French, Spanish and German A-level exams after an investigation into falling student numbers and the lack of top grades being awarded in modern languages. The changes will be made in time for next summer’s exams.