First fall in GCSE grades in exam's history
Published: 23rd Aug 2012 11:51:40
There has been a fall in the proportion of GCSEs awarded an A*-C grade, for the first time since the exams were introduced 24 years ago.
This year's results show 69.4% of entries earned grades A*-C, compared with 69.8% last year.
There is also a fall in the proportion of pupils receiving the top A* and A grades, down to 22.4% from 23.2%.
About 658,000 16-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving their results.
A further 547,000 candidates, many of whom will have sat exams a year early or as adults, are also receiving their grades.
The pass rate had steadily risen since the exams replaced O-levels and CSEs in 1988, when 42.5% of entries were awarded an A*-C grade.
By 2010 69.1% were awarded these grades, prompting accusations of grade inflation.
The proportion of entries awarded top grades had also risen every year.
In an attempt to address concerns of "dumbing down" and ensure results were comparable, England's exams regulator, Ofqual, told exam boards they would have to justify any results notably different to those of previous years.
This was because a number of new GCSEs, including English, mathematics and ICT, are being assessed for the first time this year.
The system known as "comparable outcomes" - which focuses on the proportion of students achieving each grade - sparked accusations that the exam boards were being asked to fix results.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers said there were concerns about the approach.
An Ofqual spokeswoman said: "We don't 'fix' grades - but we do make sure that grades are right. We have developed our approach with the help of the best experts in the field, and we are open about what we do."
Modular GCSEs are being dropped in England, so that pupils starting GCSE courses this September will have to sit all their exams at the end of the course.
GCSE exams sat in 2014 in English literature, geography, history and religious education will also be assessed for spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Schools in Wales and Northern Ireland will continue to be able to opt for modular GCSEs.
Changes that could see a return of O-level-style exams are planned for further down the line.
She added: "Results do go up or down, for various reasons. They don't stay exactly the same each year, in each subject.
"But we have to be as sure as we can be that any movement is for a good reason, and that is what we do."
Thursday's statistics show a decrease in the proportion of GCSEs awarded at least a C grade in the core subjects of English, maths and science. The fall is particularly pronounced in English.
In English literature, 76.3% of exams were awarded A*-C, compared with 78.4% last year, and 23.2% earned at least an A, down from 25% in 2011.
In English language and combined English literature and language exams, results went down from 65.5% getting A*-C to 64.2%.
And head teachers representing dozens of schools say some students have been marked down by an entire grade in English compared with the results that teachers had predicted.
But the Joint Council for Qualifications, which publishes the annual results, said they were happy with the grades awarded and the drop in A*-C English results was partly down to more candidates sitting the exam earlier, during the winter exam season.
And in science, which has been made tougher, there has been a 2.2 percentage point drop in the proportion of entries awarded an A*-C grade. Some 60.7% are achieving these good grades.
There has also been a fall in A*-C results in maths, with 58.4% of entries getting at least a C grade, down from 58.8% in 2011.
Head of the Nasuwt teaching union Chris Keates said the government may seek to claim the dip in grades was the result of its "toughening up" exams, but that this was untrue.
But she added that it would not be long before results were affected negatively by government spending cuts and its "elitist" reforms.
The results come as changes are under way to make GCSEs in England more rigorous from September.
These include marks allocated for spelling and grammar and requiring all exams to be taken at the end of the two-year courses rather than in modules along the way.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. First fall in GCSE grades in exam's history. [Online] (Updated 23 Aug 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news.php/1447766-First-fall-in-GCSE-grades-in-exams-history [Accessed 18th May 2013]
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