Regulator warns against ‘simplistic’ GCSE comparisons

Thursday 23 Aug 2018

Qualifications Wales today warned that it will be difficult to make any meaningful comparisons between this year’s GCSE results and those of previous years. 

With the scale and complexity of the changes this year, we’d caution against drawing conclusions based on simplistic comparisons between results from this summer and previous years.” said Chief Executive Philip Blaker. 

“There has been a significant shift in the size and nature of the cohort taking GCSE exams this summer, as well as changes to many of the exams themselves, so it’s not possible to draw any firm conclusions from these results.” 

Summer 2018 saw the award of 15 new GCSE qualifications, bringing the total number of reformed subjects introduced in Wales since 2015 to 21. 

The overall number of GCSEs sat in Wales this summer has fallen from a high of 298,370 in 2017 to 271,761 this summer, a reduction of 8.9%. 

This summer has seen a significant reduction in the cohort taking GCSEs early in Wales compared with 2017, when there was a record entry by Year 10 students. 

The sharp fall in early entries this year comes on the back of a change to Welsh Government policy, which means that from summer 2019 only a student’s first result will count towards their school’s performance measures. 

Analysis of the data for summer 2018 shows: 

  • The proportion achieving A* to A is up 0.6 percentage points to 18.5% 
  • The proportion achieving A* to C is down 1.2 percentage points to 61.6% 
  • The proportion achieving A* to G is down 0.5 percentage points to 96.4% 

An example of the GCSEs reformed this year is science. 

Previously, around two-thirds of the cohort took GCSEs while the remainder did vocational alternatives.  

That has changed this year, with almost all Year 11 students having sat at least one of the new GCSE Science qualifications. This means that the range of qualifications students can choose from, and the cohort of students taking them, is very different to years gone by. 

This surge of students taking science GCSEs is also the result of changes to school performance measures. GCSEs are now the only science qualifications that can be used to measure a school’s performance  

With all these changes to entry patterns and to the range of qualifications on offer, care should be taken when drawing any conclusions from comparing summer 2018 results and previous years.” said Mr Blaker. “We realise people will want to know how to interpret this year’s GCSE outcomes. For anyone who wants a fuller understanding of this year’s results, we’ve published a comprehensive analysis on our website.”