Laura McInerney: ‘Complicated GCSE changes are a catastrophe in the making’

Writing in the Guardian, Laura McInerney says employers, universities, parents and pupils are likely to be bamboozled by exam changes, including and end to grades A* to G.

…So what are the planned changes? First, GCSE grades will shift from letters (A* to G) to numbers (9 to 1). Not all subjects will move at once, though. For a few years pupils will receive a combination of letters and numbers. This might not be so bad if there were a method for directly converting one to the other – as with Britain’s old and new currencies back in 1971. But the government deliberately designed the system so things don’t equate. A grade 4 will be similar to a low-ish C grade, but not quite the same. This will make it difficult for employers and universities to compare candidates in the next few years.

The exams themselves are also changing. The government plans to make them more “rigorous”. This plays well for politicians, who can excuse any dip in results on the grounds that the questions got harder rather than schools got worse. It is (again) less helpful for employers trying to work out the exam currency exchange rate, and very awkward for headteachers, who are under pressure to show improvements.

Finally, there are changes afoot in the way schools, as a whole, are measured. At present, they are judged on the proportion of pupils achieving a C grade or above in any five subjects, including English and maths. This has led to teachers focusing energies on the pupils most at risk of falling just under a C, and putting less effort into teaching very high- or low-ability pupils…

…All this creates a headache. The anxiety in staffrooms is that it will lead to a system where parents struggle to know which local school is performing best, politicians are unable to demonstrate progress and headteachers are left trying to mete out performance-related pay based on noisy, complex data.

So far, I haven’t heard a solution. But I’m going to take a punt and say I think “destinations data” are about to have their turn in the sun…

More at: Complicated GCSE changes are a catastrophe in the making


In the full article Laura McInerney makes comparisons with the switch to decimalisation in 1971 which, she says, was meticulously planned. By contrast, she suggests, these changes have not been properly thought through yet.

What do you think is in store for us all when this batch of GCSE changes kick in and what will be the main issues?

And do you agree with the suggestion that destination data might soon become the measure used by schools and politicians alike to communicate performance? If so, what might be the implications of that?

Please give us your feedback in the comments or via Twitter…

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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The GCSE reforms are setting a generation of students and teachers up to fail; difficult for difficult’s sake and confusing

  2. Teacher_Ofqual

    SchoolsImprove Ace qs on GCSE reform – ofqual are demonstrably thinking through the changes and we want to know more via focus groups.

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