The GCSE Results Scandal
During a time when students across the country find out whether they have made the grade for further education, this year has witnessed a significant number of head teachers, teachers and students complaining about the last minute change of grade boundaries to the English G.C.S.E results. The Exam Boards’ sudden decision to move the goalposts, Parmila Kumari argues, will only exacerbate the problems related to access to education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
This summer saw a general drop in G.C.S.E results for the first time since the exams were introduced 24 years ago. The results to English exams undertaken this year specifically fell by 1.5% across the nation. Approximately 4,000 students who were expected to achieve a C grade pass in their English exams had been moved down to the D grade category.
As the change in grade boundaries occurred in the middle of the school year, it has made it harder to achieve the same grade for a student taking the exam this June, as opposed to those who would have sat their exams in January – despite having been taught the curriculum within the same school year. Pupils having undertaken the exams in June will have a lower chance of achieving the results crucial to win highly sought-after places to study A-Levels.
As a result, Headteachers across the U.K. have demanded a remark of all English G.C.S.E exams. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), a body which represents over 17,000 head and deputy headteachers, is also looking into the possibility of taking legal action against the exam authorities.
In response, the examining authorities have argued that it has been necessary to put up the grade benchmarks to keep standards high, and to prevent inflation in grades this summer. This has been in keeping with the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove’s promise to end the inflation in grades evidenced by the last few years – as a result of what he sees to be easier exams. Gove has since denied any involvement with the decision by the examining authorities to up the benchmarks for exams.
Whilst it remains to be seen who wins, Mr Gove and Ofqual or the schools and students; a teacher has since sent the Secretary of State for Education a scathing letter which highlights just what is at stake for students – specifically those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Chris Edwards, of Bishop David Brown School in Surrey wrote:
I am proud to work at a small school, on a small estate, in the most deprived ward in the county…within our 530 students, we have 36 different languages spoken and over 40 per cent of students do not count English as their first language.
This time last year…thirteen of this class of 22 were learning English as an additional language and a further seven were on the special educational needs register. I was delighted, as you would imagine, that 21 of them passed their English and English Literature exams and headed off to college, full of confidence and ambition. They hadn't had the greatest start in life, but had worked incredibly hard to achieve what may seem to you a modest grade C at GCSE level.
This year…I spent the vast majority of the morning consoling students, who worked more than hard enough to achieve a C grade in English, had been predicted a C grade in English and effectively had earned a C grade in English, but had been credited with a D grade…they can't understand why someone would want to play around with their futures in such a cruel way.
You have not simply moved the goalposts. You have demolished them, sold off the playing fields and left the dreams of these youngsters in tatters.
This letter should serve as a reminder of how hard it is for students from varying backgrounds – and languages, to sit such exams in the first place. Changing the benchmark within a school year can only add to the challenges they face as well as make them feel that the odds are stacked against them.
Ofqual has since decided not to remark the papers, instead offering students the more inferior option of retaking their exams. For those having sat their exams in June, even if they retake their exams they will still face harsher standards than fellow students who were lucky enough to take the January exams.
The problem is not with increasing standards – that is a perfectly reasonable ambition. But the problems stem from when such attempts do not consider the situation of and leave behind students who have not had the best starts in life, and for whom a chance for further education represents an opportunity to move beyond their disadvantage.