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The Impact of GCSE Reform

Last time, we explained GCSE reform. This time, we’re looking at the possible implications.

The Impact
There’s a widespread belief that education has been becoming more “soft” over the years, and that the O Level represented a golden standard of British education that has since been lost. GCSE pass rates have been going up for the past few years, but whether this could be interpreted as evidence of improvement is debatable – to many, this represents a fall in standards.

The new GCSEs will make attainment more challenging, and, as a result, pass rates may drop. The increase in challenge may be a knee-jerk reaction to perceived falling standards, which could end up have a detrimental impact on student outcomes.

High Achievers
By splitting the A grade into three, the reforms make it easier to differentiate between students at the top end of the spectrum. The overall effect of this means that exceptional students will be pushed to achieve more, and receive greater recognition of their achievements.

When framed in the context of pupils that consistently overachieve, it’s easy to see how higher expectations will produce better results. However, this doesn’t do anything to help the vast majority of students, who could be left behind by the changes. The new grade 5 pulls the rug out from under students who were working towards a C grade.

Furthermore, the heavy focus on high-achieving students (a third of the possible grades are dedicated to them) could be demoralising for students expecting to achieve grade 1-3. Essentially, while these changes could generate positive outcomes for the top 5%, there’s a significant risk that the majority of students – those in the middle and lower thirds of attainment – could get left behind.

Exam Hall Blues
There’s cause for argument that, over the past few years, too much emphasis has been placed on coursework and testing outside of the exam hall. The new core GCSEs of Mathematics and English Language may be a reaction to this perception, as they hand students more accountability and responsibility for their results in the form of exam pressure. Certainly, this makes sense when you consider the recent abolishment of “resit culture” – realistically, students only have the opportunity to resit a test once, rather than taking resits until they get the grade they want.

However, a heavy focus on examination-based assessment has the potential to artificially deflate some students’ grades; not everyone performs at their best under the steely gaze of the examiner. It’s also unclear how this will affect teachers – will they have to adapt their lessons to meet these new expectations?

Some parents fear that, similar to the O Level vs. GCSE debacle, the new GCSE grades may be devalued. Others are worried that cohorts that predate the new GCSE grades will be missing out on a more valuable qualification, and that the new grades 5, 8, and 9 will erode the current grade C and A’s positions of power.

If employers and universities aren’t educated on the subject, or if they misinterpret what the new grades mean, it could have a dramatic impact on students’ future employability. It remains to be seen which qualification employers will tend to favour, if they will at all.

It’s undeniable that these changes are causing mass confusion. Students, parents, and even teachers are confused about what these changes mean.

Our education system is in a transitional period, and, for the next few years, students will be awarded a mixture of numerical and alphabetical grades across their subjects. These often don’t align, and it’s difficult to see how your grades fit into a wider picture when they’re so fundamentally different. 

Ultimately, while it may difficult to see the immediate benefits, it’s impossible to be sure of the implications of GCSE reform until it’s been fully implemented.

In the meantime, the best solution to people’s confusion is education. We’ve used official advice from Ofqual to develop planner page ideas that help students, teachers, and parents to understand how the new grading system works. By including these pages in your school’s planners, you can ensure that everybody is up to speed. Include comparison tables in your teacher and student planners, and they’ll always have them to hand. You can click here to find out more.This is part 2 of a 2 part series on GCSE reform.

Do you have an opinion on GCSE reform that you want to share? Join in the discussion on social media, or post a comment below.