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GCSE standards

(53 Posts)
Kez100 Wed 27-Jul-11 17:25:58

Following on from another thread which went off-topic a bit between me and Geopuzzles, I've started this one.

I'll start with my thoughts on GCSE grades - only thoughts and I'm happy to be batted into a corner to change my view.

Firstly standards:

I think current GCSE standards are different and so shouldn't be compared to old O Level grades, or even early GCSE grades. I think this is why it's difficult for employers (many of whom will be O level or early GCSE era).

Seems to me, A and A* students are the old O level A-C students. So, they are now squeezed into two grades, whereas we had 3 passing grades (A,B,C).

CSE students are A grade GCSE if they were grade 1 CSE and GCSE B-G (Grade 2 and lower).

Secondly the exam system:

The system of modules and controlled assessment (not the old coursework) is a good one because it allows children more time in which to demonstrate their ability. I appreciate the difficulty for teachers in the lost teaching time and adminstrating them around illness of students etc, but overall I can see the fairness in this. Exam costs must be much higher.

Some children - like myself - suffered terribly from hayfever and it ruined our exam season (we will never know if it actually affected our grades, of course). Now, with less % being sat in the summer, everyone gets a more equal chance. Also life is more like controlled assessment. You get told the question, you plan the work and then get on with it. You also need to work over a period of time rather than cram in a few months. All good training for life.

I can see the internal disadvantages for the school but I think the current system is fairer generally and probably does give children greater chance at a better grade but only because it's a fairer system and many were disadvantaged by the old way: 3 hours of exams, all on one/two days.


mnistooaddictive Wed 27-Jul-11 18:15:41

The problem with coursework is too often it is also a reflection of the quality and effort of the teacher. Maths coursework has gone but I spent hours of tine at lunch and after school making sure every student had the best possible coursework. Not every teacher can, or will do this.

Kez100 Wed 27-Jul-11 18:26:11

Hasn't coursework gone? My Y10 daughter has had none. I am particularly referring to controlled assessment which is in current use - surely teachers cannot affect that in the same way?

GnomeDePlume Wed 27-Jul-11 20:18:35

I agree there is a huge difference between old GCEs and current GCSEs. DD1 (year 10 transitioning to year 11) certainly does far more assessed work than I did for many of her subjects.

To add to the confusion it does also seem to depend on the subject and the exam board.

DD1 did a non-standard language GCSE early on. Because of the relative obscurity of the language in the UK nobody was going to deal with course work so the whole GCSE depended on the final exam.

Some schools offer IGCSEs basically because it they are 'more difficult'.DH1(late 40s) remembers his school insisted that students took a particular exam board's maths exam because it was more difficult and universities would be impressed!

MillyR Wed 27-Jul-11 20:40:33

About 17% of GCSE results are A or A*. I don't know what percentage of early GCSE grades were A-C, but I think it is unlikely that it was only 17%.
Most employers are not going to be looking at candidates who have a lot of A or A* grades, because people who get those grades go on to A level or University and so employers will look at their A level results or degree result instead.

A greater issue is not the standard of GCSE compared to 20-30 years ago, but the standard of GCSEs compared to each other - not just between subjects but between exam boards. DS is going to do some WJEC examined subjects, and there is no way that the AQA versions are as challenging.

mummytime Wed 27-Jul-11 20:45:59

It was less than 17% of pupils got an A at O'level, and remember it was only about the top 10-20% who sat o'levels (and some teachers didn't want any to on ideological grounds, I was taught by a few of them).

MillyR Wed 27-Jul-11 20:50:11

Yes, but some of the people who sat CSEs will have got equivalent to an O level C. So it isn't just the % of people who actually sat O levels.

I think it is undeniable that some subjects are now easier than they used to be, but that doesn't mean that a C at O level is now equivalent to an A at GCSE.

Kez100 Wed 27-Jul-11 21:03:49

I've O level grade A in English Language and I've seen current A* work and can't believe I ever produced work as high a level as that.

MillyR Wed 27-Jul-11 21:06:40

I wonder if some subjects are easier, some more difficult and some so completely different in content that it is impossible to compare.

GnomeDePlume Wed 27-Jul-11 21:27:44

I think there is also some 'mis-rememberance'. This is especially common where a commentator has taken a subject through from GCE to postgraduate level. I see this with my DB (a proper grown up physicist) who doesnt always accurately remember when he studies particular topics.

EvilTwins Wed 27-Jul-11 21:31:05

I hate the yearly "standards are falling" rants in the papers. Why are people so desperate to point out that they are cleverer than their children, which is what it boils down to, IMO.

Those of you banging on about standards falling (and admitedly, it's not everyone who has contributed, so don't misinterpret - but every year, the papers are full of it) think about how your own children feel when essentially, you're saying "well done dear, but it's not really THAT good, not compared with how tough it was when I was your age"

A friend and I compared an A Level Theatre Studies paper a couple of years ago with one that she'd found in her old school things, and there was very little difference. She sat her A Levels in 1993.

amothersplaceisinthewrong Wed 27-Jul-11 21:34:09

I prefer the old system - no coursework/controlled assessments, no modules, just a set of exams at the end of the two year course where you have to remember the WHOLE of what you were taught not just a a fragment at one sitting.

EvilTwins Wed 27-Jul-11 21:37:24

amothersplace - why do you prefer that system? Genuinely curious. It's nothing at all like "real life" and, IMO, doesn't prepare students for anything. I did very well in my GCSEs and A Levels, but, in terms of GCSE, can't remember a huge amount of the stuff that I clearly knew at the time - my good short-term memory got me through my exams, nothing more.

MillyR Wed 27-Jul-11 21:43:07

It concerns me that schools start modular GCSE courses early, so that children can be sitting some of the exams at 13. I have chosen to send DS to a school where they don't start them early as he is a Summer birthday.

I also think that starting GCSEs early encourages children to drop subjects that they think they are no good at, when in fact they may have had a good chance of passing them if they waited an extra year.

Minx179 Thu 28-Jul-11 00:05:09

I think the whole exam system needs re-looking at because it doesn't make sense and penalises those children who are non academic.

I wasn't considered very bright at school, sat CSE's between 3-5's in EMS, 1-2's in the subjects I enjoyed, yet I was rarely made to feel a failure. I feel that with GCSE's there is no interest by schools in children who are likely to gain below a D. Come results time only those children falling in the A-C range appear to be interviewed which ignores the fact that children earning lower grades may have worked just as hard as those gaining lower grades.

BTEC's equivalent to x GCSE's, don't make me laugh, they are less academic and rigorous than GCSE's, schools choose them because it helps their stats look good. I'm not against vocational subjects as a rule, but think they should be disassociated from academic subjects.

Kez100 Thu 28-Jul-11 03:37:42

I certainly agree with that. My daughter has just done History GCSE in a year. It was extraordinarily hard work and she is a borderline pupil. A C or D for her is excellent, but she will only get any acknowledgement if its a C outcome. Even then, the school will only earn 1x credit for her.

Her friends took an ICT course which they completed fully in class over the year. No exam and no homework needed. If they get a reasonable grade they earn 2x GCSE credits.

I'm not against children doing the courses themselves - they should do what is right for them, but NO WAY should the course be worth the same as History, let alone worth more!

I am also an advocate of BTEC. I did a national diploma myself instead of A levels and it was an excellent entrance course into my profession. It was very hard work too. It was worth, in it's time, x number of A levels. People dissed it and said not but they were wrong because it was - it gave access to degrees equivalent (my mate who got distinction with me went to Exeter Uni). That's what makes something equivalent or not. Will sixth forms really see these courses as worth double of History GCSE when it comes to entrance for A levels? If not, then it ain't equivalent and needs changing!

moonferret Thu 28-Jul-11 04:07:46

Maths is the subject I'm most familiar with and it's very clear that standards have been heading down for many years. It's difficult to put an exact date on it, but the introduction of the GCSE in 1988 "coincided" with a move towards dramatic increases in passes, combined with less content and much easier papers. The decline has continued almost year on year since then. I'd give the kids of today a 1960s/70s O Level paper and see how they get on grin
(I wouldn't really...that would be very mean too much of a culture shock for them!)

Kez100 Thu 28-Jul-11 04:28:29

But that was my original argument. The only children now likely to have passed an O level in Maths is your A A star students. Don't you think - with tuition - they would pass it now?

The GCSE grade B and lower students wouldn't have sat an O level. They'd have been your grade 2 CSE students.

It's a different grading system. Valid for today's cohorts. Not to be compared to 60/70s.

moonferret Thu 28-Jul-11 05:15:50

The thing to bear in mind is that the children of today are no brighter or less bright than the children of any era. The education system has just become totally watered down in this country. There are many reasons for this. What is needed is a return to 100% examination (like the O Level) assessment. Sod the feminists who like coursework as it favours girls, and sod the middle classes who like to "help" their children out with coursework.
They should award an 'A' to the top 10%, a 'B' to the next 15%, a 'C' to the next 25%, a 'D' to the next 15% and an 'E' to the next 10%. The remaining 25% would fail.
In answer to your point, if today's A/A* students were given a 60s/70s O Level paper the next day, I'd bet very few would "achieve" even a C grade. With good tuition or education (such as you only get at places like Eton), kids of today are capable of anything kids of the past were.

mummytime Thu 28-Jul-11 06:00:08

But with Maths the exams were getting harder each year in from 1970s to 1980s, as more and more stuff that had been degree level was included in A 'level, then they reversed this. I know the first point because our teachers at the time showed us degree level books with some of our maths in.
In science some stuff has come into the syllabus that wasn't taught until Uni, and also there is much more emphasis on understanding rather than rote learning.
Module exams can be very good for some kinds of pupils (girls, dyslexics). Coursework has already been tightened up and can no longer "be done by parents" as it is done in school, and the government wants to abolish it. The government also wants to change how qualifications such as BTEC and OCR nationals are measured against GCSEs.

Also when sitting exams at a very high level (eg. Masters) they are often open book, in fact at that level both my DH and I had exams which you took away for 24 hours to complete.

Personally I think a well thought out multiple choice can also be a real test (it needs negative marking for incorrect answers).

The other crucial difference is that the whole marking (definitely of A'levels) has changed. In my day there were set percentages of those taking the exam who would get the grades, now all who get a certain mark get the grade. In my day for one A'level there was 2% difference in one exam between the mark needed for a grade B and a grade D (I know I got the C).

Also at one point governments didn't interfere with O'levels and A'levels, and didn't take the credit for improving standards.

bruffin Thu 28-Jul-11 08:02:34

"About 17% of GCSE results are A or A*. I don't know what percentage of early GCSE grades were A-C, but I think it is unlikely that it was only 17%. "

I was told in 1979 when I did o'levels that only about the top 15% in the country got 5 0'level passes (a-c)

A D was a fail by 5% or less so I wonder where that stands compared to todays gcses it must be at least a B

magentadreamer Thu 28-Jul-11 09:00:47

I am a fan of modular exams, as I feel it enables a wider amount of material to be assessed. DD (yr9) has just completed GCSE Geography over the course of yr9. DD had 3 unit exams of an hour each and a CA ( think this was about 3 hours or so not too sure) DD took her first unit in Jan and the last two in June. What I am not a fan off is the mentality of "didn't get an A*/C this time?" resit it again and again.

A CSE grade 1 was supposed to be the equivilant of a C grade at O level but TBH I would question that. I did CSE Maths and it was a peice of piss to get a grade 1. I struggled with O level Maths and no way would I have got a C grade at O level.

MABS Thu 28-Jul-11 09:10:14

ask me on 25 Aug when i get dd's gcse grades!

cricketballs Thu 28-Jul-11 10:04:06

the league tables have to shoulder the majority of the blame for every issue that has been raised in this thread.

Since their introduction, module re-sits have increased, equivalent qualifications have increased and the push to sit as many subjects as humanly possible has increased

magentadreamer Thu 28-Jul-11 10:42:56

Agree with you totally Cricket. My DD will do the following:

Core Subjects:
English x 2(yr9-11)
Statistics - (yr9)
Triple Science(yr9-11)
RE -Full course (yr9-11)
OCR ICT -"worth" 1 GCSE( yr9)
BTEC ICT -"worth" 2 GCSE(yr10-11)
BTEC PE -"worth" 1 GCSE(yr9-11)

And then an option subject in yr9,10 and 11.

DD said to me she'd love to do something just for "fun". I remember doing an art class in yr10-11 which was not an exam class purely a down time chill out thing and we did have fun in the class. I don't recall many of my High School Teachers apart from the art teacher who had us doing all different things. Today it might be classed as an "enrichment" class but out of all the stuff DD does it would be nice for her to have an hour a week to do something that didn't have a BTEC/GCSE prefixing it!

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