GCSE boundaries to be lowered to avoid Gove effect

The Sunday Times is reporting that exam boards are to lower some grade boundaries for this summer’s GCSEs to prevent an embarrassingly big dip in results after the former education secretary Michael Gove made the exams more difficult.

Children getting their GCSE results this summer will need fewer marks to get a C rather than a D, or an A rather than a B than in previous years, an exam board insider told The Sunday Times. The change has been condemned as “fiddling”, leaving employers, parents and pupils confused about how well children have really done.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, added: “Lowering the grade boundaries is a way of making Gove’s changes to GCSEs more palatable.” He thinks there will still be a slight dip on last year’s results. “The fiddling means that trying to compare this year’s results with last year’s is a nonsense.”

The results in English GCSE are understood to be particularly vulnerable after the scrapping of a part of the exam that had allowed teachers to assess pupils’ speaking and listening abilities.

In previous years, the teacher assessments counted for 25% of the total marks and Smithers said teachers and parents often did coursework for children.

This year, encouraged by Gove, more pupils have opted for GCSEs in harder subjects such as languages, a move exam boards have admitted is likely to “depress results”…

More at: GCSE marks bumped up to avoid Gove effect (subscription required)


Is this a pragmatic response to the change in difficulty of the exams to ensure reasonable continuity when assessing students’ grades? What do you think? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter and take part in our poll…

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Today's poll: Should GCSE grade boundaries be lowered if marks are down this year?
Categories: Secondary.


  1. HughdjNicklin

    SchoolsImprove so much for criterion ref marking. Oh, & Y takes us months 2 do what Fr do in a week? #fiddle

  2. SKatsoulakis

    SchoolsImprove However it’s time for transparency.. A student who knows what they are aiming for can reach ! If it’s a shot in the dark…

  3. JoNoGo

    SchoolsImprove There’s a term for this. Out-of-the-norm referencing or is it Goveterian-referencing. Suddenly we know why he was moved.

  4. SLT_Kat

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove agreed, it’s hard to take! Really feel for the students & their families #uncertainty

  5. kalowski

    Happens every year. Have just spent a year reading research on grading – system is so complex you just can’t judge if cohorts better/worse than previous. You cannot compare year on year with any accuracy.

  6. cherrylkd

    SLT_Kat SchoolsImprove it’s awful for all concerned incl teachers. Wish they’d stop playing with chn’s lives.

  7. Nichola80

    cherrylkd SLT_Kat SchoolsImprove terrible. Every year they put down the children’s achievements. I remember it from my GCSEs 18 years ago

  8. SLT_Kat

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove heart sank when started to see these posts. I know some teachers have gone extra mile & back to prep classes.

  9. SLT_Kat

    Nichola80 cherrylkd SchoolsImprove after 5 yrs of hard work & stresses of exams … It’s LAST thing anyone wants to hear of!!!

  10. kalowski

    Sorry, when I say ‘happens every year’ I mean fiddling, not specifically lowering. We’ve no control over exam board referencing.

  11. cherrylkd

    Nichola80 SLT_Kat SchoolsImprove You have to feel for them all. Plus how can employers judge with ‘C’ moving around so much.

  12. technologytotea

    cherrylkd Nichola80 SLT_Kat SchoolsImprove I don’t think they can, hence why some judge children leaving sch harshly

  13. SLT_Kat

    cherrylkd Nichola80 SchoolsImprove it just starts to put a bad taste in your mouth at (what should be) a glorious time of year!!!

  14. SLT_Kat

    technologytotea cherrylkd Nichola80 SchoolsImprove it’s got a ‘lottery’ feel to it – lucky depending on your year. #unfair

  15. Yorkshire_Steve

    SchoolsImprove KevinBrennanMP It’s comparable outcomes being used to ensure switch from modular to linear does not disadvantage students.

  16. Nichola80

    cherrylkd SLT_Kat SchoolsImprove only applelies first couple of years. Who can remember now what say 2008 was like as a year for levels?

  17. Yorkshire_Steve

    SchoolsImprove KevinBrennanMP One of ofqual’s decisions is that, at times of change, students should not be disadvantaged by the change.

  18. Yorkshire_Steve

    SchoolsImprove KevinBrennanMP ie. if you would have gained a B in old system then you should get a B in new. Ob only works on average.

  19. CobleyWriter

    SchoolsImprove 3 years of this fiddling has damaged students’ futures, teachers’ careers, and distorted Ofsted judgements. It has to stop.

  20. Yorkshire_Steve

    SchoolsImprove KevinBrennanMP National results will prob dip a bit as ofqual’s comp outcomes designed to protect against exam changes …

  21. Yorkshire_Steve

    SchoolsImprove KevinBrennanMP ofqual not against schools changing exam early entry policy which many now changed due to 1st entry counts

  22. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove If it wasn’t in the run up to an election would they change grade boundaries? Answer: No. Student results being politicised

  23. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Problem with stories like this is every result in every subject is now tarnished whatever the grade. Entire cohort suffer

  24. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Does this decision not delay the issue until next summer? Are boundaries going to have to be lowered every year. Shambles

  25. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Ofqual and the DfE keep demonstrating that neither is fit for purpose yet they are still allowed to carry on regardless

  26. jillsaward

    SchoolsImprove KevinBrennanMP exams are frequently inconsistent & teachers not knowing grades as a result. #shambolicmess

  27. cherrylkd

    Nichola80 SLT_Kat SchoolsImprove So if you end up with wrong grade you have to defend that 5 years later when everyone’s forgotten

  28. WolfBaginski

    SchoolsImprove NicDakinMP System has always tweaked grade levels. No two years ever the same.. How much is political?

  29. davowillz

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove “insider” said they are going to fiddle the results,because they made them harder to stop schls fiddling results?

  30. davowillz

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove Also I hope that Smithers has actual evidence for teachers cheating on coursework.

  31. davowillz

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove We are now desperate for fair and transparent exams. Why is that so hard for us? What do other countries do?

  32. cherrylkd

    davowillz SchoolsImprove We are. And we need the goal posts to stop shifting so we have something to aim for. We live in hope.

  33. Chris1955

    Let me get this right…… the last set of results before an election are being fiddled so they don’t look so bad, and so Gave doesn’t look to middle-class voters as if he has damaged education.  The next incoming government will have their results come out as a big dip, so that Gove can say how great he was compared to the new government?

    Is that correct?  Just wondering.

  34. davowillz

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove Actually I don’t. If a teacher’s class passes or fails they get paid the same so why would they?

  35. cherrylkd

    davowillz SchoolsImprove Although success/failure has crept in to PRP since it was introduced. In some schools anyway. I’m with you though

  36. VictoriaJaquiss

    angusdawalker SchoolsImprove Gove has gone but what he did-unforgivable. Exams should test what a student knows, not try 2 catch them out.

  37. davowillz

    cherrylkd @ Ah PRP. A performance related system led us to financial disaster in the banking system so let’s put one in schls #genius

  38. pmonfort

    angusdawalker SchoolsImprove yep. Looking forward to reminding people this year of the folly of comparing subject results with last years’

  39. English_Woman

    SchoolsImprove KevinBrennanMP Dumbing down our kids again. Ignorant citizens are easier to manipulate. Pity you can’t brainwash them all.

  40. SallyHoward3

    SchoolsImprove The ignorance on matters such as validity / reliability/ generalisability is a concern. exams aren’t criterion reference:-(

  41. Ingotian

    SchoolsImprove If true it shows that bench marks and standards are in fact arbitrary and rather unrelated to any specific rationale.

  42. EddieTriggs

    SchoolsImprove I teach in FE and trust me when I say C grade in English does not mean the learner can actually read and write functionally!

  43. SallyHoward3

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove Not necessarily! Take more notice of Teacher Assessment would be a sensible move towards a better system!

  44. SallyHoward3

    SKatsoulakis SchoolsImprove Yes! Public exams are norm referenced not criterion! That is where the issues lie! Develop Teacher Assessment

  45. cherrylkd

    SallyHoward3 SchoolsImprove But will employers do that? I don’t know any who might have a look at Teacher Assessment.

  46. SallyHoward3

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove Teacher Assessment needs higher status as part of a summative grading system that can include an exam grade.

  47. SallyHoward3

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove need to relook at the whole faulty system of over emphasis in public exams. They have a place if balance adjusted

  48. cherrylkd

    SallyHoward3 SchoolsImprove you have a point. I just can’t see it happening any time soon. In spec sch there’s much emphasis on TA, valued

  49. KarenMW

    My daughter’s waiting for her GCSE results. She’s spent the past two years being messed about moving from one system to another, sitting papers which were marked but not graded, being told she should resit some of those even though she’d have received an A at that mark the previous years “just in case”. There have been times when it’s been very clear the teachers didn’t have a clue what was going on. Now she’s taking from the news a) her cohort did very badly b) everyone’s going to think their grades are fixed.
    It now takes me a conscious effort to consider that the good she is getting from school outweighs the stress, misinformation, social pressure & self image issues it causes.

  50. HughdjNicklin

    SurrealAnarchy JamesTheo Once there was an exam w fixed, openly stated grade criteria. It was called GCSE(TM) History. Thatcher banned it.

  51. AReesLearning

    SchoolsImprove It was inevitable but it leaves everyone less certain what a C means and risks kid’s self esteem – what a legacy Govey!

  52. EddieTriggs

    IdrisGeorge SchoolsImprove Sorry I disagree, my students learn Eng skills, for whatever reason, they did not learn in school.

  53. IdrisGeorge

    EddieTriggs SchoolsImprove i mean the college taught functional skills, which I assist with teaching. It’s ridiculous.

  54. IdrisGeorge

    EddieTriggs SchoolsImprove i’m not sure if it is the college i’m at but it lacks in structure. It just seems as long as you can write

  55. mattjmitchell

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove But ofqual stated policy is to keep consistent percentage outcomes from ks2 start points, so it should happen

  56. mattjmitchell

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove that said, it makes increasing progress made nationally impossible. A sneaky “all better than average”?

  57. andylutwyche

    mattjmitchell SchoolsImprove The only reason that boundaries are being changed is for the DfE to save face pre-general election

  58. andylutwyche

    mattjmitchell SchoolsImprove It’s so they can claim to have added rigour to the exam system, but a huge drop will negate this argument

  59. spsmith45

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Grade boundaries have always been moved for consistency. E.g. Papers vary. Nothing to do with elections.

  60. andylutwyche

    spsmith45 SchoolsImprove I know that but they are being moved again having got some of the scores in as far as I can see from article

  61. spsmith45

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove It’s simple. New arrangements (no resits) would lower reslts so Ofq adj boundaries to kp results similar.

  62. HughdjNicklin

    spsmith45 andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Power of Exam boards dep on capacity 2 deliver stats 2 order. Cr Ref marking ‘over our dead bodies’

  63. andylutwyche

    spsmith45 SchoolsImprove Original questions would have given rough guidelines to boundaries. Question style has changed so lower marks

  64. andylutwyche

    spsmith45 SchoolsImprove So what you are saying is that the results look really bad so they change boundaries to lessen the blow

  65. spsmith45

    HughdjNicklin andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Kind of. Complex stats to show current perf in line with KS2 figures.

  66. mattjmitchell

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove in theory they’ll never drop versus KS2 APS, but ofqual predicted changes this year so we’ll see …

  67. mattjmitchell

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove this is neither a good norm reference nor an absolute measure though. Need to analyse prev yrs to check

  68. andylutwyche

    spsmith45 HughdjNicklin SchoolsImprove So the whole system is based upon results the same cohort achieved 5 years previous? Senseless

  69. andylutwyche

    spsmith45 SchoolsImprove With no other influences taken into account I presume (would be very difficult I know).

  70. spsmith45

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove My gripe is that results depend on KS2, so, in effect, secondary teachers cannot “add value”. Not crit ref.

  71. andylutwyche

    mattjmitchell SchoolsImprove But Ofqual have said that we can’t compare these results to previous years!

  72. andylutwyche

    spsmith45 SchoolsImprove If you tried to sell pitch this system to Dragons’ Den you’d be laughed out of the room

  73. HughdjNicklin

    andylutwyche spsmith45 SchoolsImprove Surely can define basic math operations in open way, so that if u do it u pass whatever others do?

  74. spsmith45

    andylutwyche HughdjNicklin SchoolsImprove Yes. This is how they try to maintain consistency. Minefield. There was grade inflation.

  75. andylutwyche

    spsmith45 SchoolsImprove Exactly-absolutely senseless. Makes you wonder what the point of trying is as a secondary teacher; damned already

  76. mattjmitchell

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove could be that results profiles differ for each exam season and their model accounts for this, but with …

  77. HughdjNicklin

    spsmith45 andylutwyche SchoolsImprove Well if the grade inflation meant that chldren were actually performing better, congrats all round?

  78. mattjmitchell

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove a different entry profile, overall outcomes are different; equally they may just fudge it like …

  79. mattjmitchell

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove they did last year. I reckon an analyst flagged this up in May and they panicked, hence their statement

  80. andylutwyche

    HughdjNicklin spsmith45 SchoolsImprove But children aren’t allowed to perform better in this system as the result is already determined

  81. andylutwyche

    mattjmitchell SchoolsImprove I think that you have a point! Trying to minimise the media reaction to their upcoming “fudge” #terrific

  82. mattjmitchell

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove govt agencies have been playing catchup to put out Gove’s fires for a couple of yrs now; #JustAnotherExample

  83. andylutwyche

    mattjmitchell SchoolsImprove Quite – it’s frankly baffling that he was allowed to continue for so long

  84. HughdjNicklin

    andylutwyche spsmith45 SchoolsImprove French get their results out in a week. I suspect we take much longer because of wheeling 7 dealing

  85. HughdjNicklin

    andylutwyche spsmith45 SchoolsImprove French get their results out in a week. I suspect we take much longer because of wheeling & dealing

  86. HughdjNicklin

    andylutwyche spsmith45 SchoolsImprove Before banning GCSE(TM) they insisted on tweaking last results, randomly & without explanation.

  87. _JohnnyBGoode

    niallmcfc_ oh I heard wrong. Michael Gove is a massive cunt anyway. Glad he’s not in charge of education anymore

  88. niallmcfc_

    _JohnnyBGoode Yeah I’ve heard bad things. Hope all works out. Did you just do your first year or final year?

  89. Kay

    This better be true because i’m in year 11! And I most definitely hope it’s for maths. English, not so much since I was one of few in the country who still got to take early in November and managed to achieve a high B grade!

  90. educating_gaz

    SchoolsImprove tes NAHTnews If this is the case where does it leave us with increased demands seen in the recent SATs testing?

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