Exam body considers fewer grades at GCSE

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GCSE results may face a major overhaul that could result in fewer grades.

In its latest report, exams regulator Ofqual indicated it was time to check whether GCSE grades should still range from A*-G.

New GCSEs are due to be introduced in 2015, so a revised grading system could accompany them.

Ofqual’s latest corporate plan, setting out its aims for the next three years, says: “Before we implement new GCSEs to match the new national curriculum, we will review the way in which GCSE results are reported so that they best meet their intended purposes.

“The grading structure stretches from A* to G, and it is time to look now at whether this is how it should be.”

It is understood that fewer grades may be an option.

Professor Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of educational assessment and the Institute of Education said: “I think that changing the system is a good idea, but reducing grades is a mistake.”

“What would be more appropriate to have is a percentage score with a measurement error,” he suggested.

Under this system, students would get a mark between nought and 100, along with a given margin of error.

For example, a candidate could score 60 per cent plus or minus 15 per cent.

“The public would understand that,” said Prof Wiliam.

He said that part of the problem is that current GCSE grading is the legacy of a system introduced 50 years ago – the old O-level and CSE exams.

Some exam boards then graded A-levels from A-E, O-levels from one to five, and Certificates of Secondary Education (CSEs) from one to five.

A grade one CSE was equivalent to an O-level grade 3.

“In those days a grade F was the national average in the CSEs.”

Prof Wiliam said that as GCSE achievement has gone up, because exams have got slightly easier and pupils are working harder and getting bright, the lower grades, from E-G have become squeezed out.

“The problem is, we are not honest about the inaccuracy of assessment,” he said.

He added: “GCSEs are becoming increasingly irrelevant in a three to 19 education system.

“If kids have got to stay on, why do we need these expensive examinations?

“Schools spend more on examining kids than they do on books and paper.”

Last summer, nearly one in four (23.2 per cent) GCSE entries scored at least an A grade while almost seven in 10 exams (69.8 per cent) were awarded a C or above.