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Variability in centre level GCSE results

This report extends the analysis we presented in 2016 and other existing research in this area. Ofqual looked at the influence of candidates' background characteristics on their performance in examinations and the variability of centre outcomes in successive years.

Similar to previous work undertaken by Ofqual and others, they found that measures of socioeconomic status have little or no bearing on centre variability. Attainment at both GCSE and KS2 was found to be an important predictor of individual candidates' and individual centres' outcomes in any given year, although attainment at GCSE is a better predictor.

Centres with very high or low ability profiles are more likely to experience a lower level of variability in outcomes than centres with ability profiles that produce large proportions of candidates with C or D grades. Centres with the most variability are those with a change in the ability of successive years of candidates.

Centres with a change in the number of students between years are more likely to experience variability in outcomes. Centres who are stable in one year are likely to be stable the following year. However, centres who experienced positive volatility in one year are likely to experience negative volatility in the next. This is probably because such centres have a high proportion of candidates who are clustered around the grade C/D borderline.

Practical skills of A level science students: Study 4

This report is part of a programme of research that Ofqual is conducting to evaluate the impact of qualification reform on the practical skills of A level science students.

The analysis provides an insight into how the practical skills items functioned in relation to other items in the 2017 A level science examinations. The findings suggest that, on average, the practical skills items were more difficult than the other items. However, there was a high degree of variability, with some practical skills items proving to be relatively hard and others relatively easy. The report suggests that the higher difficulty may be in part a result of practical skills items being relatively new to teachers and students. The effect may dissipate in future years, once teachers and students become more familiar with the style of question.

Appeals for GCSE: November 2017 exam series in England

This report presents data on appeals made for the November 2017 GCSE exam series in England. 

Variability in A level results for schools, 2016 to 2018

Ofqual has analysed the year-on-year variation in the percentage of students achieving grades A* or A in 14 3 of the reformed subjects. This includes mathematics where the reformed A level is available after one year of study, alongside the legacy specifications in mathematics.

  • In general, the level of variation in individual school and college results at A* and A is similar to previous years.
  • Differences between the average (mean) percentage of students achieving grades A* or A in 2017/2018 and in 2016/2017 were generally small, indicating that year-on-year results in the subjects analysed have remained relatively stable
  • Even when there are no changes to qualifications, individual schools and colleges will see variation in their year-on-year results: this is normal.

AS and A level decoupling: Implications for the maintenance of AS standards

The aim of this qualitative study was to gain an understanding of the nature of students being entered to reformed AS qualifications and whether reformed AS cohorts are likely to differ in any systematic way from previous cohorts.

Key findings

  • Some schools had tightened their AS/A level entry criteria and/or were encouraging lower ability students to study AS/A level alternatives. Some schools were discouraging students from studying subjects seen as being harder, or subjects which they had not studied before.
  • This suggests that reformed AS and A level cohorts could have a higher prior attainment profile than pre-reform cohorts.
  • Cost was cited as a reason for moving away from AS (8 out of 17 schools in the sample), it is possible that only the schools who can afford to enter students for AS continue to do so.
  • Schools who had decided to start students on three subjects in year 12 instead of four had increased the amount of teaching time and/or enrichment which could impact on AS/A level performance.
  • This research highlights the need to ensure that, alongside the predictions, examiner judgement is used, since this should help detect any significant changes in performance not related to prior attainment.

About the research:

  •  Ofqual spoke to 17 schools from across England

You can access all of Ofqual's research here

First published 20 August 2018
20/08/2018