GCSE Reforms 2018 – Was it really worth it?

Last week students all over the country have been opening envelopes containing their GCSE results. Whether they have done well or not, they deserve our sympathy because many will receive both lettered grades (in the old unreformed iGCSEs) and numerical grades in the reformed subjects. It is, if truth be told a bit of a mess and one that the students will have to explain to employers for the rest of their lives!

But the even greater scandal, in my opinion, is the enormous stress they have been put under to complete examinations that were harder than students have taken in previous years. Teachers, too, have been placed under exceptional stress with no past papers to refer to, no previous experience of the examinations and, in many cases, no textbooks to guide them. No-one could confidently predict how the papers would be marked this summer and my teachers have told me there is considerably more content to be taught and, of course, learnt.

It is eight years since Michael Gove embarked on the biggest reforms to the school system since 1988. His plan was to ensure the GCSE and A Level examinations had academic rigour. He hoped that the reforms would ensure England’s educational system was comparable with the systems in Shanghai, South Korea and Japan. It was meant to mark a “year zero” for the qualifications, resetting them to peg them to the best education systems across the globe.

The exams regulator, Ofqual, realised that this year’s students were essentially “guinea pigs” and could not allow them to be awarded lower grades than their counterparts from previous years. They introduced a statistical process called “comparable outcomes” which links students’ achievements at GCSE to how well they did at the end of primary school. The move ensures grades remain relatively stable from one year to the next. To ensure students were not further disadvantaged, grade boundaries were set lower this year meaning it is easier for students to pass. In Geography, for example, students needed just 35% to get a grade 4.

I am left wondering was it really worth it?