Less confident girls will lose out 
in exam reforms, warn teachers

A RETURN to final exams at GCSE could discriminate against girls, teachers warned yesterday.

A return to final exams at GCSE 'could discriminate against girls'

Girls’ GCSE grades could drop as a result of the Government’s decision to ditch “modular” qualifications because they are less confident and adventurous when taking end-of-course exams, according to a former chief examiner.

Geoff Venn, a retired chemistry teacher from Bedfordshire, told the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference in Liverpool that he was concerned that gains in girls’ GCSE results could be lost as the Government pushes ahead with exam reforms.

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Education Secretary Michael Gove confirmed plans last month for a major overhaul of GCSEs which will see exams taken at the end of two-year courses, rather than in modules throughout, as well as an increase in extended questions and less internal assessment.

But Mr Venn, who was a chief examiner in the 1980s, argued that the move could have a “considerable” gender impact.

“I think it’s important for me to state what I feel is one of the most unfortunate aspects of what Mr Gove is proposing,” he told delegates. “I was involved in exams back in the time when GCSE was being introduced, and during the time immediately afterwards.

“One of the big developments that occurred during that time was the gradual increase in the percentage of girls who were succeeding in GCSE generally and particularly in science GCSEs.

“This, we felt, was very often because of the different ways in which assessment was being used, and different forms of assessment.

“If we go back to pure rote learning, to pure single exam at the end of the course, will this have a considerable gender impact on the results that we get? Is it going to be discriminatory against girls? I have a strong feeling that it will be. I think it’s one of the aspects that needs to be looked at before we go forward with this type of assessment and examination.”

Mr Venn was speaking to a resolution proposed at the conference calling for the Government to consult widely, and allow enough time for consultation on its plans for GCSE reform.

The motion, which was passed by delegates, said the union was “dismayed” at the Government’s “apparent determination to press ahead with major reforms to the external examination system for England, Wales and Northern Ireland” at GCSE level.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Venn said there had been a major improvement in girls’ exam results when they felt “confidence to be able to excel at GCSE”.

Statistics show that girls have been outperforming boys at GCSE for more than 20 years.

Last summer, 73.3% of girls’ entries were awarded at least a C grade, compared to 65.4% of boys’ entries.

Mr Venn warned: “If Michael Gove is going to go back to the idea of one final examination, purely memory-based, all those gains are going to be lost and we could well see a situation where GCSE results for girls go down.”

He added: “Where we have high stakes testing, girls feel less confident to excel. Boys are more adventurous and can go into a final examination and feel more confident in doing it.”

In his speech to the conference Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg raised his own concerns about the pace of exam reform. “Increasingly, at almost every school I visit I am told that the pace of change in education at the moment is undermining education standards,” he said.

“We have changes to GCSEs planned to be introduced at the same time as changes to A-levels.

“And we have changes to AS-levels that will represent a major step backwards for young people in this country.”

The Government has already started making changes to GCSEs, including a move away from modular courses, with new GCSEs in English, maths, science, history and geography due to be introduced for first teaching in 2015.

But Mr Gove has rowed back on widely-opposed plans to axe GCSEs in favour of new English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) in key academic subjects.