Exam factory approach ‘damaging education’

| 23/08/2013

(The Telegraph): Senior examiners and business leaders in the UK warned that standards were being put at risk by an escalating trend of early test entries combined with multiple resits. Schools are increasingly entering children for GCSEs at 14 or 15 — and forcing them to retake the same test paper as many as eight times a year — because of “perverse incentives” created by official league tables, they said. The head of Britain’s biggest exam board warned the practice was doing “real damage” to pupils’ understanding of key subjects such as maths, as tests eat into valuable lesson time and lead to children being drilled to pass. Children are also significantly less likely to gain good marks at 15 than 16 because of the loss of the extra year’s schooling.

The disclosure came as figures showed the number of pupils gaining good GCSEs dropped for the second time in two years, and by the largest margin on record.

In all, the proportion of test papers awarded at least a C — considered a good pass — was down by 1.3 percentage points to 68.1 per cent. The proportion of tests marked A* or A fell by more than one percentage point to 21.3 per cent. A series of key reforms to GCSEs — including a toughening up of science exams, higher grade boundaries in maths and a shift towards traditional subjects such as languages – had been linked with the drop in headline grades.

But examiners today warned the most significant factor was the trend of entering pupils for exams early. Many schools do this to allow pupils to “bank” a good grade before moving on to other subjects. It also gives pupils more time to resit if they fail to gain A* to C grades — thereby boosting schools’ positions in official rankings.

The number of 15-year-olds taking at least one GCSE rose by more than a third this year, from 416,477 to 507,568. They made up almost a quarter of pupils taking maths exams this year.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the OCR exam board, said: “The results are far lower for 15-year-olds — these qualifications are designed for 16-year-olds.”

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