GCSE results suggest more schools entering students for exams when they are ready

Thursday 17 Jan 2019

Latest GCSE results suggest schools are entering students early for exams when they are ready, according to regulator Qualifications Wales  

Although the number of students who took the exams is lower than previous years, the 16-year-olds who were entered early by their schools tended to be higher ability students. 

Students who sat the two GCSE maths exams last November posted strong results, while the proportion of students achieving an A* or A in GCSE English Language has almost doubled. 

 “These results suggest schools are using the opportunity to enter students early for exams when they are judged to be ready,” said Qualifications Wales Chief Executive Philip Blaker. 

“Students who sat GCSE Mathematics and GCSE Mathematics-Numeracy early last November tended to be higher ability students, while results at A* and A in GCSE English Language improved compared with previous November series exams.” 

While the proportion of students achieving the top grades has increased, the number of students entering the exams has fallen by 59.1%. 

“It’s likely that this large drop in entries is partly a response to changes to school performance measures by Welsh Government aimed at discouraging early entry by students who are not ready to take the exam,” said Mr Blaker. 

A substantial drop in entries across all subjects makes meaningful year-on-year comparisons difficult, the regulator says. 

  • The number of students who sat GCSE Mathematics last November was 6,577, down from 21,881 in November 2017. Of those, 22.8% achieved an A* or A, compared with 10.6% the previous year. 
  • A total of 11,931 students sat GCSE Mathematics-Numeracy in November 2018, down from 19,193 the year before. Of those, 17.7% achieved an A* or A grade in November 2018 compared with 11.1% in 2017. 
  • GCSE English Language saw 6.4% of the 3,290 students who sat the exam in November last year achieve an A* or A grade compared with the 3.2% of the 11,716 who took the exam in 2017. 
  • In the case of GCSE Welsh Language, the number of students who entered – 185 compared with 502 in November 2017 – means it’s difficult to make meaningful comparisons between the two sets of results. The statistics show 3.2% achieving A* or A grade in 2018 compared with 7.8% the year before. 

The profile of students sitting the GCSE maths exams last November is not representative of the entire cohort, with results for 16-year-olds suggesting that higher ability mathematicians were entered early. 

“This may have implications for next summer’s results as these higher ability students are unlikely to enter the summer exams. That may depress the summer results compared with previous years when they are published in August,” said Mr Blaker. 

An overview of the results can be viewed here.