A Quarter of Students Sitting GCSE Maths and English Early

A Quarter of Students Sitting GCSE Maths and English Early

Gove warns against sitting GCSEs early

On 8th March 2012 Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that he is to discourage what he says is the “damaging trend” of struggling pupils taking GCSEs early. In 2010 about a quarter of pupils took Maths early and a quarter took English early. Mr Gove says research shows that “for many of these pupils early GCSE entry can be detrimental”.

Students’ Potential Being Damaged By Sitting Exams Early

Michael Gove has called for a review into the growing trend of students being entered for GCSE Exams early on the grounds that it is damaging the futures of the students concerned. He is worried that they are being entered for exams before they are ready and not being given the opportunity to obtain the grades they are capable of achieving. “It seems likely that candidates are being entered before they are ready, and ‘banking’ a C grade where their performance at Key Stage 2 would suggest that if they had continued to study the subject and taken the GCSE at the end of Year 11 they could have achieved a top grade” he is quoted as saying. This assertion would appear to be supported by figures that show that 29% of early entrants got an A*, A or B in Maths GCSE compared with 41% of end-of-course entrants. Mr Gove said: “[This] suggests that candidates who enter early perform worse overall than those who do not, even after resits are taken into account.”  A further aspect for concern is that this policy is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum which means that students are not receiving sound subject teaching but simply being prepared for exams.

We welcome this review as we have been concerned for some time at the increasing number of our students who are being entered for exams before they have a sufficient grounding in the subject. In addition, there are several aspects of the GCSE system which we believe should be taken into account as part of the review process:

  • The artificial banding of A* to C Grades as a measurement of institutional and student progress. This banding encourages students, in particular, boys to “coast” to the minimum required grade (please see our recent piece (School maths lessons: Pupils ‘scared to ask for help’ – How Can I Help My Child Do Better In School). It also provides a perverse incentive for schools to allow many students to fall below their individual potential being satisfied if they achieve a C Grade because it boosts their own standing in the school league tables and ensures that their pass rates remain above the DfE’s floor standards.
  • The largest growth rate of Grades within the A* to C Grade banding from 2010 to 2011 was among C Grade achievers. This raises a pertinent question. With such a high percentage of younger students being entered early for these exams how much impact has this had on the growth rate in students passing GCSE Maths year on year. We haven’t examined the figures for English pass rates but we are concerned that overall standards aren’t being raised to the extent that published figures would suggest.
  • Demotivation amongst students being entered for exams before they are ready. We concur with the opinion of Adam Hall, Chief Executive of AQA who stated that he was  “worried about the students who are entered too early being scared off the subject and joining the pool who believe they ‘can’t do Maths’.”   Some of those in favour of the policy of entering students for exams early claim “that it gives pupils at risk of drifting out of education more challenge and focus and the chance of getting something on their academic record before they drop out.” In our experience this strategy is having the opposite effect. We see all-too many students coming through our door having lost confidence in their ability to succeed. Schools are simply setting students up for failure by entering them for exams with insufficient subject knowledge knowing that they will have numerous opportunities to resit over the following period of their GCSE studies. We have encountered numerous students who have failed the same exam two and sometimes three times and have become thoroughly demotivated.

The current system is not only allowing but also actively encouraging students to achieve the minimum of which they are capable and failing to enable them to reach their ultimate potential. Furthemore, it is not providing students with a broad or deep enough knowledge of the subjects which they are studying and depriving them of the enjoyment that comes from a greater level of understanding. Finally, we find ourselves in the position of having to teach topics and concepts as part of students’ exam preparation because they have not covered a sufficient amount of the curriculum in time for their exams. All these elements are in opposition to our aims and values. At Kip McGrath we work to provide all our students with sufficient subject knowledge and confidence to obtain the best possible grades. Consequently, we support any policies that would strive to produce the best educational outcome for every student and meets their needs as an individual. We will await the outcome of the review with interest.

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