The biggest examination shake-up in a generation has reached its first major milestone – GCSE Results Day. The good news is that, by and large, Thursday 24 August seems to have passed off with students and teachers both emerging largely unscathed.

Results Day is always the time when press, politicians and schools crunch the numbers and spin what they find as best they can and in the way they want to. Meanwhile, in the midst of all this, young people’s futures are decided.

2017 – An unprecedented GCSE Results Day

Much was made in the media around Results Day about the unprecedented nature of this year’s round of results. Yes, it was the first year impacted upon by major reforms to examinations; but what really made this year so unprecedented is the level of confusion caused by it.

This was the first year where the new grading system – 9-1 – was introduced; but, only for Mathematics, English Language and English Literature. This meant that for the first time students would be receiving a mixture of grades, the conventional A*-G, and now numbers.

To add to the confusion, schools have continually complained over the last couple of years that they have received little guidance about how the new levels compared to the old grades. A ‘4’ has been called a ‘standard pass’ with a ‘5’ labelled as a ‘strong pass’ – but schools have been left wondering how they will be judged by OFSTED.

Not only this, students in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland now sit FOUR different types of exam! It has also become apparent that many businesses are unclear about what the changes are and what they mean!

 GCSEs: Reformed, Unreformed and All Entries

Source Ofqual

Year-on-year comparisons between exam results should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Talk of ‘a dip in results’ can be used to make people believe that exams are harder, schools are underperforming, or children not being as able as before. In truth, the headline figures that come out of GCSE Results Day are fairly meaningless. A year-on-year comparison might only be justified if the 500,000 or so students who sat GCSE exams the previous year were identical in terms of ability, and socio-economic profile, as the 500,000 who sat them the next year. And, of course, this is never going to be the case.

However, this year, trying to compare the 2017 set of data with 2016 is even more difficult and flawed – because the exams young people have sat are not like-for-like.

Broadly speaking though, as the infographic shows, GCSE results this year are generally consistent with 2016’s set of results.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pass rates across most subjects, including English Literature and Mathematics has fallen. There has also been a fall in the proportion of students achieving the top grades. However, most commentators would agree that these decreases were not as major and dramatic as many feared or predicted. More analysis and comment on the GCSE results can be found in this BBC News report.

How can students better prepare for next year?

All in all, it would seem that students (and schools) have coped admirably with the new GCSEs and the changes that the examination reforms have caused.

Of course, any dip in results percentages is a concern. Indeed, critics of the new GCSEs were quick to point to the fall as a sign that the narrowing of the school curriculum is not meeting the needs of many students.

But, how can students now prepare for the challenges ahead in the next year? In some ways things will get easier; in many ways things will become even tougher.

Having got through the first round of reforms, teachers of Mathematics, English Language and English Literature will no doubt feel better prepared for the coming year. It was the feeling of going into the unknown that teachers found so daunting. So, for these subjects, teachers will feel more confident – and that confidence should be passed on to the students.

However, 2018 will see the second phase of new 9-1 GCSEs and it will be the summer of 2019 before the whole system has been completely moved over to the new numerical grading in all subjects.

Only then will the true impact of this highly challenging examination system be felt.

At Impact Tutors we have many tutors who specialise in the GCSE’s and can provide that extra level of support when needed.

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