Every year, the media report on GCSE and A-level results and how they compare to previous years. Then they forget about until the next August. For students and school workers, however, GCSEs are a constant source of bewildering misery.
This year, GCSE results have dropped by 2.1%: the biggest fall since the qualifications were introduced. One reason may be changes in exam format and the overloading of content that have happened in some subjects. Another could be the pressure put on school workers and pupils by the amount of funding per pupil dropping, teacher shortages, and accountability regimes.
Next year, we are entering further uncharted territory as it will be the first year in which students are subject to a numbered grading system in English and Maths. Other subjects will follow in the next year. The “cut-off point” for what is counted as a “good grade” will no longer be a “C”, but a “5”, which teachers and headteachers estimate is equivalent to a high C or low B. Even more students will be cut out of learning by the new systems and will be treated like failures, probably leading to further declines in young people’s mental health (when children’s and adolescent mental health services are dealing with brutal cuts).
Also affecting results is the introduction in England of compulsory education or training up to 18, with young people who failed to gain a C or above in English or Maths being made re-take these exams for the two years post-year 11. How exactly the government intends to find enough Maths and English teachers in a teacher recruitment crisis is unclear. Government measures and league-tables also mean there is less and less take-up of subjects like technology, art and design, music, and Humanities subjects outside of History and Geography, shutting off opportunities for working-class people to get into the arts.
Education specialists should be trusted far more to provide assessments of students’ learning, rather than the system relying on an inaccurate “snapshot” in the form of standardised tests. The exam regime acts only as a filter to sift out working class youngsters and has virtually nothing to do with what is best for young people or providing them with socially useful skills.