GCSE shake-up sees top grades plunge

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GCSE pass rates have dipped this year amid the biggest shake-up of exams in a generation, which has seen pupils sit tougher exams and the traditional A* to G grades ditched in key subjects.

The blizzard of changes has seen a new 9 to 1 system introduced for English and maths, with other subjects set to follow over the next two years.

The overall pass rate - those achieving grade C or a 4 and above - was 66.1 per cent, down by 0.4 percentage points on last year. In Yorkshire the overall pass rate was 63.2 per cent, down 0.3 per cent on 2016.

Those achieving the highest grades of an A or 7 and above stood at 19.8 per cent nationally, which was down by 0.4 per cent on the previous year.

While 16.8 per cent in Yorkshire were awarded the top grades , which was down by 0.2 per cent.

Around 50,000 English and maths GCSEs were awarded the new highest grade, with just over 2,000 teenagers scoring a clean sweep, gaining 9s in English, English literature and maths.

Students needed just under a fifth of marks in this year’s higher-level maths GCSE to achieve a grade 4, considered a standard pass, figures show. Getting just over half the marks gave candidates a new grade 7 - equivalent to an A - while those scoring at least 79 per cent were awarded a 9 - the highest result under England’s new 9-1 grading system. Exams regulator Ofqual pointed out that the higher tier maths paper covers a wide grade range and that grade boundaries reflect “an appropriate standard of performance”.

Thousands of pupils have celebrated GCSE success across Yorkshire despite the shake-up.

Around 50,000 English and maths GCSEs were awarded the new highest grade this summer. Just over 2,000 teenagers scored a clean sweep, gaining 9s in English, English literature and maths.

They included dozens across the county, including six pupils at King Ecbert School, in Sheffield, and five at The Grammar School at Leeds, who achieved all A*s and 9s. King Ecgbert headteacher Paul Haigh, said “We are so proud of everything all our students have achieved, but these six have stunned us all.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said teachers and pupils had “performed miracles” in “very challenging circumstances”.

Fewer candidates achieved a 9 than the proportion who gained an A* under the traditional A*-G grading system, following the deliberate move to change the system to allow more differentiation, particularly between the brightest candidates.

However, despite the shake-up, across much of Yorkshire it was a day of celebration yesterday as schools and councils reported top results and inspiring success stories.

Leeds and York City Councils said pupils and staff have worked extra hard this year and deserve additional recognition. Coun Stuart Rawlings, York’s Cabinet member for education, said: “Even with significant changes for our students this year, they have continued to achieve excellent outcomes.”

Maths in particular has more content, and in both subjects there has been a move away from coursework and pupils now sit all exams at the end of the two-year courses, rather than throughout.

Although the exams have been made more demanding, broadly the same proportions of candidates have achieved key passes - such as at the A/7 boundary - due to processes put in place to ensure results are comparable and that students taking the first new courses are not disadvantaged.

Mr Barton said: “They have performed miracles amidst a sea of curriculum change which continues unabated next year. They deserve tremendous credit.”

The statistics

Nationally the overall pass rate - those achieving grade Cor a 4 and above - was 66.1 per cent, down by 0.4 percentage points on last year.

In Yorkshire the overall pass rate was 63.2 per cent, down 0.3 per cent on 2016.

Those achieving the highest grades of A or 7 and above stood at 19.8 per cent nationally, which was down 0.4 per cent on the previous year.

While across the county 16.8 per cent were awarded the top grades, down slightly by 0.2 per cent.

Around 60 per cent of English and maths GCSEs awarded the highest result were girls’ entries, compared with around 40 per cent for boys.