Tag Archives: GCSEs


This is one of many work files belonging to a colleague of mine. It contains worksheets and notes pertaining to “stuff” that has been, but no longer is, part of GCSE Physics syllabuses. Not the full GCSE Physics course, just the stuff that’s no longer there.

Why does she keep the work? Well, every so often, a topic gets re-inserted, or comes up somewhere else, so the material can be used either as-is, or modified to fit.

What a colossal waste of time and effort!

  • We know the canon of Physics.
  • We know the Scope (for each level) and the Sequence it should be taught in to get the best results.

Why are we dictated to by exam boards and government about what gets taught at KS4&5?

It makes no sense to suddenly take out, or add great swathes of knowledge, as seems to happen.

Subject specialists, at all levels, and in all subjects, ought to come together and sort out the syllabuses properly. Then review them in 5 yearly intervals.  And the same body of knowledge ought to be the basis of all assessments.

Progressive attainment

There’s a fairly fundamental flaw in the logic that says:

retaking a module of an exam devalues either the exam or the results.

Surely the opposite is true:  that since a student has unfortunately failed a section of the exam:

a) that section was challenging and

b) having retaken the test, the scholar has met, and hopefully overcome, the challenge.

Indeed,  it could be argued that more and not fewer modules ought to be set:

  • Why not have an exams ladder,  where a student studies at the appropriate level?
  • What’s wrong with having units of work (cross marked between schools) which actually count towards the final result?  &
  • Why not enter students for an exam when they’re ready, rather than them having to wait until they’re 16?

What’s wrong with having a portfolio of grades adding up to an overall record of achievement?

Just wonderin’!


GCSEs are a benchmark.

Are they the most taxing exams in the world?  No. But they need to remain consistent.

Should they be harder?  No.  But they need to differentiate between all ability levels.

Should there be more than one level of exam for GCSE?  No.  But the GCSE is, and should continue to be, only one of a series of exam levels.

Should they be Norm Referenced?  No. … .. ….

‘Educated citizens’ – is that an oxymoron?

The Government, through the Russell Group’s inexplicable focus on the ‘facilitating’ subjects, seems to be expressing what many teachers already know:  that the National Curriculum is irrelevant.

The only thing that matters in school,  as things stand at any rate,  is to get as many 16 year olds above a D in as many GCSEs as possible.

So therefore the focus (at least at Secondary level) is on the GCSE syllabus.  And the more astute in the profession have been drawing the contents of that down the Key Stages for a while now.

But any professional that cares about their subject, knows that there are holes in many of these syllabi, and perhaps foolhardily attempts to stick their thumbs in the cracks.  Because they know,  that to do their job well,  they should be giving each student the best education they can.

So, Mr. Gove stands up in front of parliament and says,

“We’ve decided to reform the driving test – we’re scrapping the practical.”

Amongst many other things, schools make scientists. In practice they have an idea about something, and then devise a fair test to interrogate the hypothesis. They set up their experiment to ensure they can take readings as accurately as possible. They collect innumerable results and extrapolate conclusions, and generally decide that their original idea was rubbish.

Schools develop linguists too. Ooh Mr. Gove likes those – so long as they never have to speak in a foreign language or understand anyone else who’s trying to converse with them.

And artists? Well if there has to be Art in the curriculum, then, I dunno, just write a couple of essays on Turner or Monet Constable or something. Don’t worry, we’ll draw our own conclusions about how good your 3D work is from that.

That’s how bad the idea to remove coursework from GCSE exams is.

It would be funny too, if it were a joke.

Swimming against the tide

and other water-based metaphors.

The cynic might suggest that the Secretary of State for Education has positioned his prawns superbly well this Summer (Ofsted past & present and Ofqual)  and is building his tsunami against GCSEs brilliantly.  I would wade into the argument and ask that the baby not be thrown out with the  bath water.

So the furore began with the moving, nay, the reducing of the size of the goal posts:  Grade Boundaries.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that since there’s a syllabus (well syllabi actually, but we’ll get to that) and an exam, that the GCSE was Criterion Referenced – i.e. that the grade awarded corresponds directly to the answers given.  And as such,  as teachers get better at delivering a course,  as resources improve and as students get the hang of it,  then grades should improve…

Just because grades were increasing,  it didn’t necessarily mean that exam questions were getting easier, or that marking was becoming more lenient.

But although we’ve been led to believe that GCSEs are Criteria Referenced exams,  there’s not a straight correlation between the correct answers and the grade awarded.  As with the old O levels, the exam marks get fiddled with. Every year, a group of people sit down and decide what percentage constitutes what grade for a particular paper:  between two percentages get an A, the next batch a B etc..  And Norm Referencing was back in evidence this year, when some English papers were said to have been marked 8% too generously. (8% too generously? Says who?)

But however unmeritocratic Norm Referencing might be,  the real issue is a problem left over from a generation ago with the merger of O levels and CSEs:

That only Grades A*- C matter.  Anything below that is regarded as a fail. Hmmm.  The whole point of the GCSE revolution – and it was revolutionary – was that EVERYONE was assessed with the SAME exam.  And consequently,  there was a grade for everyone.  This meant that employers or colleges of further education all knew what level the student had achieved.  We really mustn’t go back to Oranges and Apples exams,  where really,  everyone is only interested in the oranges,  and the apples go straight onto the compost heap.

But not all GCSEs are the same.  Indeed, not all GCSE providers are the same for that matter.  There are seven exam boards,  all offering different syllabi, with different emphases.  Some more academically rigorous than others.  WHY?

If Mr. Gove is really serious about setting a standard at GCSE,  then I challenge him to let Ofqual consult widely amongst subject specialist teachers, lecturers and professors to develop a substantive syllabus in each subject.

And what about the A* – C conundrum?  There are two possible solutions:

Either,  strip out the norm referencing and offer a raw percentage result.  This would mean that for the sake of parity, the examination would have to be more or less the same each year.  Therefore expect, nay demand, that the percentage rises year on year.  But, sometime in the not too distant future,  an education secretary, in order to demonstrate that s/he is effective in the post, will jump up and down and shout in a loud voice that “the exam is no longer fit for purpose” and demand that the goal posts be moved again.

Or accept that the results should come in three broader,  but decreasing bandwidths in much the same vein as the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music have been happily doing for generations:  Pass at 66 – 80%, Merit between 80 and 93% and Distinction for the top 7%.  There’ll still be grey areas around the boundaries, of course,  but at least the exams could be varied and interesting.