Examining today's GCSE results: what's behind the drop?

Published: 23rd Oct 2014

On the face of it, today's GCSE results figures are alarming: the proportion of pupils getting five A*-C grades, including English and Maths, fell from 59.2% last year to 52.6% this year.

But comparing the year-on-year results doesn't in itself prove a dramatic fall in standards. As the Department for Education (DfE) is at pains to point out, the way GCSE results are measured has changed a great deal.

Firstly, resits are no longer included, so while pupils' final grades—including any retakes after initial poor results—were counted in 2012/13, now the figures just reflect a pupil's first attempt.

Also 3,000 largely vocational qualifications considered equivalent to GCSEs, have been removed from this year's figures to meet the DfE's new 'quality criteria'. Furthermore, no qualification can now count as more than a single GCSE, since previously some of these vocational qualifications could count for several at once.

A fairer comparison, as the DfE suggest, is to apply the new methodology to last year's results which finds that 56% of pupils achieved five A*-C grades, including English and Maths. So measured this way today's 52.6% is still a drop, if less dramatic. Crucially, we can't account for how schools might have changed their behaviour last year had the new performance measures come in then, so last year's figure may not represent 'what would have been'.


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