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GCSE results: English pass rates fall for the first time, what does this mean?


GCSE results are out. Was it what your child expected and needed?


An interesting article in The Guardian this week showed that English pass rates have fallen for the first time in 20 years.

“Pass rates for students sitting GCSE English have fallen for the first time in 20 years, after the removal of the “speaking and listening” element of the exam.

The proportion of A*-C grades awarded to pupils taking the subject dropped by 1.9 percentage points to 61.7%, though slightly more students got the top grades.

But in maths grades rose across the board, with more students getting the vital C grade (up 4.8 percentage points). A greater proportion of students also gained A*s and As – up 0.9 and 0.5 percentage points respectively.

Andrew Hall, the head of the exam board AQA, put the dip in English grades down to changes in the assessment, which came into effect this summer.

“The key drivers are that stronger students took the exam in the winter season, which was the last opportunity for schools and colleges to sit English with the speaking and listening element. Schools who thought they had a candidate who was strong enough to take it in November did so. Not surprisingly, this has had an impact on outcomes.”

There was also a “small switch” of students to IGCSEs (international GCSEs), which retained the speaking and listening element of exams, he said.

The proportion of students getting the A* and A grades in English rose slightly – by 0.3 and 0.1 percentage points respectively.

For the first time this summer, GCSE students were required to sit their exams through an end-of-course exam, and only their first result would count in school league tables.

Despite fears that a move away from coursework and modular tests could disadvantage girls, the gap in the proportion of boys and girls getting a pass grade widened in girls’ favour. This year 73.1% of girls got at least a grade C, compared with 64.3% of boys.

Among high achievers, the gap between girls and boys narrowed slightly. This year 8.1% of girls achieved an A*, compared with 5.2% of boys – previously these figures stood at 8.3% and 5.3% respectively.

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said some schools had reported unexpected results for high-ability students and those on the C/D borderline in English and maths.

“We know that schools have coped really well with the volume of changes, there’s no questions about that. But what you’ve got is a number of schools – it seems to be significant – who are reporting a number of unexpected results. The schools are not able to explain them simply by entry rules.”

Exam chiefs also pointed to the rising popularity of GCSE Spanish, entries to which have continued to grow year-on-year, increasing by almost a third (28.1%) since 2012.

“Spanish has gone from strength to strength and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the most popular language studied in England. It’s one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world and more students want to study it because it’s a useful language to have,” said Hall.

Entries to French and German dipped slightly, but are still in line with the decline in the number of students sitting GCSE. However, grades for both languages fell across the board – the proportion of students getting at least a C dropped 0.5 percentage points in French and 0.9 percentage points in German.

Hall said there was no obvious explanation for this, but that the cohort may be less able. “We use comparable outcomes to ensure we maintain a consistent standard – so ultimately this will mean that it’s a weaker group of students taking French and German this year.”

In Spanish, the proportion of students getting a grade C rose 0.2 percentage points, though fewer got the top A* grade (down 0.6 percentage points)”.


How did your child do?

Until next time.