Are English students losing out because of Michael Gove's GCSE reforms?


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The Independent Online

One little-known fact to emerge out of this year's GCSE results: students in England may be at a disadvantage when it comes to the grades that they are given.

While England's results bore the fruits of all the former Education Secretary Michael Gove's exam reforms, Wales and Northern Ireland decided not to embrace the changes. Also, their regulation systems have not adopted the "comparable outcomes" policy of Ofqual, the exams regulator in England. Under this, results are expected to be broadly similar to those of the previous year unless a good argument can be made that there have been improvements in standards.

The upshot has been to narrow the gap in performance, so that results in Wales are now only two per cent behind England's, down from four per cent. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland, which traditionally has better results than England, has seen the gap between it and its neighbours rise from 10 per cent to 11.2 per cent.

All of which poses an interesting dilemma for university admissions staff. Do they offer places to the English candidate who may have a lower grade but faced a more demanding regime, or the Welsh candidate with a higher grade? Answers on a postcard, please.

Meanwhile, an interesting rationale for the relatively poorer performance of English students in the international Pisa tests in English, maths and science has emerged from Institute of Education researchers.

Readers may recall that the results sparked fury from Mr Gove and were used as evidence to show why it was necessary to overhaul the system.

According to the researchers, the date the tests were taken in England changed from between March and May in 2004 to November/December for the 2007 and 2009 tests.

So English children had around half a year's less schooling than those in other countries to prepare for the tests.

"It would be odd if this was not associated with a decline in observed English students' performance relative to other countries," researchers say.