Some food for thought on the recent GCSE session

Obviously, the matter of unconditional offers does not arise with the GCSE examinations and their results, but the other two, the reliability of marking and the grade boundaries, particularly, perhaps, the latter, are equally significant.


Many find it of great concern that it is possible to secure the highest grades in an examination despite having answered half the questions incorrectly, or not at all. These is a concern that has been raised before and it seems likely it will continue to be a topic of debate for some considerable time to come.


In addition, there is also, it would appear, growing unease about the pattern of entries. This is showing signs of affecting the choices of candidates for A level as well as GCSE (readers will, for example, no doubt have noticed the comments already being made about the considerable fall in the number of entries for English at A level this year).


However, the position with regard to GCSE is both different and greater. Here the concerns are not about the entries for English, that is a core subject of course. In fact, it is arguably what is defined as a core subject that has given rise to the changes that are affecting entries.


The introduction of the eBac has, it can plausibly be argued, resulted in a drop in entries to a number of the subjects which are not part of it. The essence of the case is that Progress 8 can be seen to be restricting learner choice at Key Stage 4, impacting on their long term educational and career trajectories in ways that are not necessarily for the long term benefit of the learners themselves.

It is generally felt that, while measuring the progress of both learners and centres is of course valuable, it should not be at the expense of the learners’ future progress The impact of these change is, in the eyes of many therefore, a considerable retrograde step. This is another area of debate which is likely to run and run it would seem.

Ofqual guide to GCSE results for England, 2019

OfQual's key points are: 

  1. The majority of today’s results were awarded for reformed GCSEs, with almost all students in England now only receiving numerical grades.
  2. Reformed GCSEs were awarded for the first time in 25 more subjects this summer, bringing the total number of reformed subjects to 48. Our focus has been to ensure that standards have been maintained for all qualifications awarded this summer.
  3. Overall GCSE outcomes at grade 4/C in England have remained stable in recent years and this trend has continued this year (67.1% in 2019 compared with 66.6% in 2018).
  4. The variability in results at centre level is slightly less than in previous years. Even when there are no changes to qualifications, individual schools and colleges will see variation in their year-on-year results; this is normal.
  5. This is the first year that we have considered evidence from the National Reference Test (first taken in 2017) into the awarding of GCSE English Language and GCSE maths. Today, we have published the results of this year’s test, together with a statement about how we have interpreted those results (see links below).

OfQual have published a variety of accompanying information, including our interactive analytics: 

You might also find it useful to read and share their Schools Guide and Student Guide. The guides contain information for schools, colleges and students, including, for example, details about reviews and appeals.

OfQual write regular blogs– our most recent entry was published on Monday - What to expect on GCSE results day. We have worked with Liverpool John Moores University and the University of Manchester to produce a guide for students on coping with exam pressure, plus a series of blog posts on text anxiety and how to help students to deal with it.

For more information contact - [email protected]