New GCSE exams 'toughest since O-levels'

Thousands of students await the results of tough new GCSE exams taken this summer

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 22 August 2017 16:28

New GCSEs brought in this summer are the most difficult exams seen in schools in over 30 years, education leaders have claimed.

Pupils awaiting their results on Thursday are the first to undertake tough new exams under a reformed system focusing more on end-of-year assessments than regular coursework.

The changes come as part of a government drive to counter grade inflation and better provide school leavers with the skills needed to go on to higher education and jobs.

But the new system has faced a great deal of scrutiny, with experts warning the new system is “unreliable” and could see thousands of students receiving incorrect grades this year.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said the new-style exams would stretch even the most able students.

“They contain questions of a level of difficulty that we have not seen since the abolition of O-levels in 1987,” he said.

For the first time since GCSEs were introduced, the traditional A*-G grade scale is to be replaced by a new 9-1 scale - with the Government defining a grade 5 as a “strong pass”.

“Universities should not consider the distinction between an 8 and a 9 worth making until they have evidence that it does indicate something,” Mr Lenon added, writing an article to be published later this week.

“After all, 95 per cent might get you a grade 8, 96-to-100 per cent a grade 9. Does the grade 9 student have greater intellectual ability and academic potential or are they simply better at writing fast, or better at checking for silly errors?

”Only time, and analysis of results, will tell.“

Philip Nye, a researcher with the thinktank Education Datalab said the number of changes this year made it inevitable that pupils across the board would be requesting remarks.

“If your sister got a string of A*s and you’ve been told you’re just as bright and you get 7s and 8s, you’re going to feel pretty miserable,” Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the Guardian.

He added that schools would be concerned about ”volatility“ in their individual results when taken into national results tables.

Earlier this month, the Institute of Directors – which represents top UK business leaders – labelled the new GCSE grades “gibberish”, warning that employers are likely to favour job candidates with the old-style lettered GCSE grades instead.

Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the institute, told TES he believes many employers will only discover that the GCSE grades have changed once they begin receiving CVs from pupils.

He said: “They might think, ‘What is this gibberish, and what does it mean, and how has it changed from previous grading systems?’”

“If the employer is time-poor and resource-constrained then they can, on occasions, be quite keen to get through as many [CVs] as possible.

“So if they have a CV that they don’t understand, then they might opt for the ones that they do.”

The new 9 to 1 grading scale is to be used for the reformed GCSE subjects English language, English literature and maths – taken by pupils this summer.

All GCSE subjects will be revised by 2018 and the changes will be rolled out across all examinations by 2020.

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