Private schools are gaming the new GCSE system says Richard Cairns, Brighton College Headmaster, in The Sunday Times.

Posted: 13th November 2018

He says that instead of doing the new ‘harder’ GCSEs, many independent schools have opted for the IGCSEs which are unregulated by Ofqual and which still include ‘discredited’ coursework.

Mount House, like many other schools, has used a mixture of the new GCSEs and IGCSEs. We pick the courses that we think will bring the best outcomes for our pupils. These choices are available, the universities are happy to accept them, and so there is no motivation for us to change. It is not ‘gaming’ the system, rather it is exercising our choice to maximise the benefits for our pupils.

Although maintained schools are not allowed to do IGCSEs, they do still have the choice of seven different examination boards. The biggest of these are AQA, Edexcel, OCR, WJEC and CIE. If the government truly wants an even playing field across the GCSE examinations, then it will have to be much more proactive. Instead of this plethora of examination boards that exist currently, it should move to just one; effectively nationalising the examination system. In that way, everyone would have to do the same papers, marking might be more consistent and league tables more reliable.

Bringing in the more rigorous GCSEs was supposed to halt the ‘grade inflation’, that has reduced the credibility of the results, and prepare pupils better for their 6th form courses. The new examinations have achieved neither! By reducing the grade boundaries to maintain the grades at previous levels, Ofqual has ensured that we have missed the opportunity to achieve any reduction in ‘grade inflation’. The proportion of high grades has, if anything, risen! As for preparing the pupils for A level, what does a pass mark of 20% tell anyone? It implies that the pupil does not know 80% of the course content which is not great preparation for higher level study.

We have got into a situation where the GCSE examinations have to serve two completely different purposes. They are firstly required to be matriculation tests to show that a required minimum level of knowledge and skills has been achieved. Secondly, they are also used to show a rank ordering of pupils so that universities and other institutions can cherry pick the best candidates. GCSE falls between these two stools.

GCSE ought to be a two-part examination. The first paper, a matriculation paper, that gives the candidate one of two outcomes; pass or fail. The second paper should be the grading paper, much harder and allowing the best candidates to show what they can achieve.

All provided by one national GCSE board…….wouldn’t that be great?