GCSE results day 2013 is the first time since the qualifications’ inception in 1988 that the overall pass mark for the qualification has fallen – and the second consecutive year that the number of students receiving top grades has dipped. In 2013, A*-C grades fell from 69.4% to 68.1%, with the proportion of students receiving an A*or an A grade dropping from 22.4% to 21.3%.
The biggest fall in attainment came in science, where the number of student achieving an A*-C grade fell from 60.7% to just over half, at 53.1%. In comparison, those awarded comparable grades in English and maths fell by 0.5% and 0.8% respectively.
Some subjects have seen a large increase in the number of entries. For instance, geography entries rose by almost a fifth (19.2%) whilst those for history increased 16.7%. Entries for modern foreign languages (including French, German and Spanish) rose by 16.9%; bucking a long time trend of decline in uptake.
Several reasons for the drop in results have been suggested, including the decision to award marks for spelling and grammar in some key GCSE subjects – such as English literature, geography, history and religious education – as opposed to just English language exams as had previously been the case. Other reasons include the increasing number of students being entered for GCSE level exams earlier – i.e. in their penultimate school year instead of their final year.
The Joint Council for Qualifications has described the move by schools to encourage younger students to take GCSEs as a damaging trend which is not in the best interests of the individual students and is driven by the fact that schools are accountable in terms of the number of students achieving A*-C grades in their GCSE results.
Michael Turner, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), said: “There are many underlying factors affecting this year’s GCSEs, including a sizeable increase in entry by 15-year-olds, new science specifications designed with greater challenge, early and multiple entry in mathematics and an increase in the number of students taking IGCSEs.”
IGCSEs refer to International GCSEs, which some schools choose to offer instead of or alongside traditional GCSE subjects. IGCSEs tend to be more exam focussed, at the expense of coursework found in the more traditional GCSE qualifications.
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