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Latest research and data from Ofqual

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Research into on the impact of modular and linear exam structures at GCSE

The research considers whether the change in the structure of GCSE exams has affected standards, fairness, teaching and learning practices, cost, and students themselves. The research focuses on GCSE outcomes between 2007 and 2014, in English, maths and science.

Key findings

  • The research found no educationally significant evidence that GCSE outcomes were affected by the structure of the examinations, ie there was no evidence to suggest that either modular or linear GCSEs lead to better educational outcomes.
  • Further, grades at A Level were not statistically significantly affected by whether students had sat modular or linear GCSEs.
  • The research did not support claims that modular or linear exams tend to favour male or female students, or affect the outcomes of low and high socio-economic status students differently.
  • The literature review points to claims that linear exams favour longer-term retention of information and deep learning, whereas modular exams allow regular feedback on performance which can be motivating for some students.
  • Many teachers considered that linear GCSEs provided more valid assessments of students' performances than did modular examinations.
  • However, concerns about students' mental health were raised, with linear examinations considered to have had a negative impact upon well-being for some students

Research study: an international literature review of secondary assessments

Ofqual has published a research study to review how moderation is delivered in a number of English-speaking jurisdictions across the world at upper secondary, including in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore and South Africa. The report reviews a number of different models of moderation and considers what might be learnt in terms of the approach to moderation that is currently taken in England.

  • The review found a number of different approaches to moderation which are currently taken across the globe, including consensus moderation, verification, moderation by inspection, and statistical moderation.
  • Most jurisdictions included non-examination assessment as a useful method of assessing skills not easily measured via exams.
  • England did not appear to 'stand out' from the other jurisdictions studied, and the report concluded that only a few aspects of England's approach would be considered 'unusual' within the international landscape.
  • The report raised several points for consideration in terms of what could be learnt from international approaches to moderation and whether these could realistically be applied.

Read the full research report on international approaches to moderation here.

Grading Vocational and Technical Qualifications

The reports exploring policies, principles and practices related to grading vocational and technical assessments.

Ofqual conclude that grading is not just a technical matter, but an educational one, too. In addition to the potential of grading to engage learners with their course of learning, its potential to disengage both learners and their teachers/trainers needs also to be recognised; for instance, when grading practices are poorly designed, or simply take up too much time.

 However, Ofqual consider the UK to be at the beginning of a dialogue towards realising the optimal technical grading models and practices.  These issues will be discussed at a conference in December 2018, and they hope that this will mark the beginning of a broader conversation on grading vocational and technical assessments amongst scholars, policy makers, and practitioners in England.

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.

You can access all of Ofqual's research here

Last updated 09/05/2019