Teachers complain of harsh marking after GCSE results fall for first time
TEACHERS have complained that thousands of children were treated too harshly by markers after top GCSE results fell for the first time in the history of the exams.
This year’s results, which were released yesterday, show 69.4 per cent of entries earned grades A*-C, compared with 69.8 per cent last year – the first fall since the exams were introduced in England in 1988.
The results, which come a week after the first fall in A level results in two decades, contrast with the position in Scotland, where pass rates rose for Standard Grades, Highers and Advanced Highers earlier this month, once again raising the issue of whether the exams are getting easier.
There is a growing divergence between the two education systems, as Scotland’s innovative Curriculum for Excellence contrasts with education secretary Michael Gove’s back-to-basics approach south of the Border.
Yesterday’s GCSE results, which also saw a fall in the proportion of those awarded the top A* grade, led to criticism from teachers that this year’s English exam had been marked too harshly, with schools reporting an unprecedented number of fails among their pupils.
School staff have complained that exam boards substantially increased grade boundaries, leaving pupils with lower results than expected, as part of a concerted effort to stop the so-called “dumbing down” of the exams.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Mr Gove was considering proposals to ditch GCSEs in favour of a return to O level-style qualifications, with less able pupils taking simpler CSE-type exams.
The leaked plans led to an outcry that it would result in a two-tier system and thousands of teenagers being branded as failures.
Commenting on yesterday’s results, teaching union the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said there seemed to be a particular problem with C/D borderline grades in English, with pupils who were expecting Cs ending up with Ds.
Adrian Prandle, the union’s education policy adviser, said: “There is unacceptable confusion about whether so-called grade inflation has been banned and grade boundaries made tougher.
“Children’s chances in life are at stake here and it is hugely unfair to make today’s 16-year-olds the victims of political football.
“If the reason for the drop in top grades is because politicians have determined they want exams to be tougher, they must explain this to the youngsters who will suffer when they compete in the future for jobs, apprenticeships, college and university places with those a year or two older.”
David Raffe, a professor at Edinburgh University’s Centre for Educational Sociology, said: “Any implication for Scotland from these results is going to be fairly indirect.
“GCSEs by and large are not competing with Standard Grades and Intermediates in the way A levels and Highers are when it comes to those entering higher education. In that sense, I don’t think there’s a direct implication.
“The politics are very clearly different. The trends that Gove is pushing in England are very different to the aims of Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland.
“At the moment the two systems are diverging, but whether that will continue in the longer term is more doubtful.”
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